Freedom in the World 2010 - Saint Kitts and Nevis
|Publication Date||3 May 2010|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 - Saint Kitts and Nevis, 3 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c0cead8c.html [accessed 21 December 2014]|
Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
In 2009, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas campaigned for reelection in advance of the January 2010 parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, the opposition denounced efforts to enforce a constitutional provision banning holders of dual citizenship from seeking elected office and criticized the sitting government's attempts to redraw district boundaries just months before the election.
Saint Kitts and Nevis gained independence from Britain in 1983 but remains a member of the Commonwealth. Denzil Douglas of the ruling Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) has been prime minister since July 1995. In 2002 elections, the SKNLP won a stronger parliamentary majority, taking all eight Saint Kitts seats in the National Assembly and shutting out the opposition People's Action Movement (PAM).
Douglas called early elections for October 2004, and his SKNLP won seven Saint Kitts seats, while the opposition PAM took the eighth. The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), a pro-independence party that headed Nevis's local government, kept two seats, and the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP), which also historically has favored secession from Saint Kitts, retained one. In July 2006, the NRP defeated the CCM in elections for Nevis's local assembly, taking three of the five seats. The NRP's Joseph Parry was subsequently named the island's third premier.
In 2009, Prime Minister Douglas increasingly focused on his campaign to win a new term in the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2010. In response to opposition claims that the government was engaged in voter padding, or registration of voters outside of their legal districts, the chairman of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States announced that political developments in St. Kitts and Nevis would be closely monitored.
A new initiative to enforce a constitutional provision barring dual citizens from holding elective office provoked controversy and forced several parliamentary candidates to publicly renounce their U.S. citizenship. A late push in November by the SKNLP to redraw district lines just before the election failed. Following economic contraction in 2008, the government had reportedly stabilized its finances in 2009, strengthening Douglas's political position ahead of the 2010 elections.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Saint Kitts and Nevis is an electoral democracy. The 2004 elections were free and fair. The federal government consists of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the unicameral National Assembly. A governor-general represents Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as ceremonial head of state. Elected National Assembly members – eight from Saint Kitts and three from Nevis – serve five-year terms. Senators are appointed to the body, and their number may not exceed two-thirds of the elected members, with one chosen by the leader of the parliamentary opposition for every two chosen by the prime minister.
Saint Kitts's main political parties are the SKNLP and the PAM. On Nevis, the two main parties are the CCM, which had long been the majority party there, and the NRP, which won a majority of seats in the Nevis Island Assembly in July 2006. Nevis's assembly is composed of five elected and three appointed members, and the local government pays for all of its own services except for those involving police and foreign relations. Saint Kitts has no similar body.
The constitution grants Nevis the option to secede if two-thirds of the elected legislators in Nevis's local assembly and two-thirds of Nevisian referendum voters approve. Though a 1998 referendum on independence failed, Nevisians continued to feel neglected by the central government.
Saint Kitts and Nevis has generally implemented its anticorruption laws effectively. Despite recently proposed legislation on financial integrity, government officials are not required to disclose financial assets. Saint Kitts and Nevis was not surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Constitutional guarantees of free expression are generally respected. The sole local television station is government owned, although it is managed by a Trinidadian company, and there are some restrictions on opposition access to the medium. The government radio station was privatized in 1997. There are four radio stations and two newspapers; one of them publishes daily and the other one weekly. Foreign media are available, and internet access is not restricted.
The free exercise of religion is constitutionally protected, and academic freedom is generally honored.
The right to organize civic organizations is generally respected, as is freedom of assembly. An estimated 10 percent of the workforce is unionized. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is recognized and generally respected in practice. The main labor union, the Saint Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated with the ruling SKNLP. In 2009, the government drafted a new labor code to bring the country's laws in line with the International Labor Organization.
The judiciary is for the most part independent, and legal provisions for a fair and speedy trial are generally observed. Capital punishment is legal, and in December 2008 the government hung Charles Laplace for the murder of his wife. The highest court is the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on Saint Lucia, but under certain circumstances, there is a right of appeal to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice. Additionally, an appeal may be made to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom.
The islands' traditionally strong rule of law continues to be tested by the prevalence of drug-related crime and corruption; the intimidation of witnesses and jurors is also a problem. The government reported 2,048 criminal cases in 2008, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. The national prison is overcrowded, with over 250 prisoners in a space intended for 150. The repatriation of felons from the United States has contributed to law enforcement agencies' sense that they are being overwhelmed.
The Domestic Violence Act criminalizes domestic violence and provides penalties for abusers, but violence against women remains a problem. The Ministry of Gender Affairs records an average of 25 to 30 reports of domestic violence per year and has offered counseling for abuse victims. There are no laws against sexual harassment. Legislation passed in November 2008 increased the age of consent for sexual activity from 16 to 18.
*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.