ELECTIONS IN A TIME OF COVID-19
By John EA Charles
RECENT months have witnessed a series of firsts and lasts for our great Federation. We were the very last country in the Americas to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 – our 15 cases were the fewest cases recorded in the Caribbean – and we were among the first to declare zero cases, joining a blessedly small and exclusive club.
We are also one of the first countries in the world to go ahead with an election since March. According to intergovernmental organization the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), some countries around the world have postponed their national and local elections. In some cases no doubt current administrations wish to prolong their grips on power. By contrast, Prime Minister Timothy Harris and Team Unity are happy to put the future of the country in the hands of the people now, as the Constitution requires, rather than to find reasons to delay democracy. We applaud that decision.
As a nation of patriots, we should be proud of the attitude and self-discipline that we have demonstrated so far during this pandemic. Our collective sacrifice, led by Prime Minister Harris, has also raised our standing in the United States, the United Kingdom and other places. And many eyes will be on us also to see what best practice they can learn from us when it comes to elections. They will want to observe how we maintain social distancing rules while getting in line to cast our vote on Election Day. They will be interested in our election turnout figures and they will also want to see how rival political campaign teams reach voters and hold debates. Campaigning has largely gone online with both parties holding virtual events. As Prime Minister Harris noted: “Virtual campaigns, social media, and other innovative and creative ways are the new normal.” This will be no normal election but then these are abnormal times for us and the whole world.
With only a week to go until Election Day, it is worth repeating some of the real achievements of the last five years. One of Team Unity’s greatest achievements was to settle our checks and to pay back a $117 million debt owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It had been left behind by former Prime Minister Denzil Douglas – a parting gift from two decades in power resolved in less than half a decade. Under the stewardship of Prime Minister Harris our economy is growing stably and responsibly. Before COVID-19 struck the world and because of his policies, the economy of St Kitts and Nevis in 2020 had been on course to experience the strongest growth rate in the Eastern Caribbean, according to the United Nations Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. The IMF also hailed us as the fastest-growing and fiscally-sound country in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union. These feats meant we are better placed to withstand the storm – and that we will emerge from it stronger and less harmed than most others.
Infrastructure progress, in the shape of the Main Road upgrade and second pier at Port Zante, are plainly visible to all. Team Unity’s Poverty Alleviation Programme, Mental Health Day Treatment Centre and Sugar Workers Restoration Fund have helped thousands. Last week’s editorial focused on how crime has fallen under Team Unity with homicides at their lowest for 14 years.
A man’s past deeds are better proof of what a man will do in the future than his words. We all know that. But elections are also a time to look forward as well as back. Over the past few weeks we have scrutinized the main candidates’ records in government and opposition. Now we want to understand their plans for the next five years. At the time of the St Kitts and Nevis Observer going to press, the election manifestos were yet to be published but they could prove to be more important than we have ever known before. Our next prime minister must have a vision of how St Kitts and Nevis comes back stronger from COVID-19 and be capable of navigating an inevitable global recession. He will need a roadmap to sustain and reinvigorate our tourism industry, our factories, our shops and all our places of work, rest and prayer. An election in the time of COVID-19 is only the beginning.