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Caribbean Islands-Political Dynamics





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Politics in St. Kitts and Nevis in the 1980s was marked by a vituperative relationship between the PAM and its opposition, the Labour Party. This state of affairs derived from a history of bitter contention between the two St. Kitts-based parties and from Labour's apparent inability to adjust to the role of opposition after more than thirty years in power.

The PAM arose as an expression of middle-class opposition to the political dominance of the Labour Party. According to most observers, the reaction of the Labour government to this challenge was not a positive one. The PAM's relatively strong showing in 1966, the first year it participated in elections, apparently alerted the Labourites to the potential strength of the opposition movement. The government's initial reaction to this threat was to declare a state of emergency in June 1967, under which twenty-two PAM members were arrested. Efforts to prosecute the detainees were abandoned by the government after the first two defendants were acquitted. Both the founder of the PAM, William Herbert, and party leader Simmonds, among others, gave accounts of harassment, imprisonment, mistreatment, and confiscation of property at the hands of the Labour government.

For its part, the PAM also showed that it could play political hardball after it came to power in coalition with the NRP in 1980. In 1981 the government ended the practice of "check-off" deduction of dues from the paychecks of members of the St. Kitts and Nevis Trades and Labour Union (SKNTLU), considerably complicating efforts by the Labour Party's union arm to raise revenues. PAM-associated unions also challenged the SKNTLU for membership, particularly among dock workers. In a move that was eventually blocked in the courts, the government attempted to shut down the headquarters of the SKNTLU (the so-called Masses House) by foreclosure through the National Bank. Ironically, this action replicated a similar effort by the Labour government in 1969, when the PAM's headquarters was purchased by the government and members were turned away by armed Defence Force personnel. Some observers felt that the PAM/NRP government took matters a step too far when it arrested Labour leader Moore in April 1987 for "utter[ing] seditious words." Moore was quickly released on bond to the acclaim of a group of supporters.

After its 1980 defeat, the Labour Party appeared to apply more of its energies to criticism of the policies and actions of the PAM/NRP government than to the formulation of a coherent alternative platform. The party's 1984 manifesto called for wage increases, a 50-percent reduction in electricity rates, greater job security for workers, and the establishment of a separate government for St. Kitts comparable to that enjoyed by Nevis. This last issue echoed Labour's 1983 campaign against the independence Constitution drawn up by the PAM/NRP, a campaign that proved unsuccessful, as judged by the results of the 1984 elections. Labour leaders also leveled charges of widespread corruption among government ministers, a fairly common theme in West Indian politics. Nonetheless, these negative tactics were not coupled with any productive efforts to expand support among the sectors of the electorate where the Labour Party had proved weakest, namely, youth and voters on Nevis. A continued decline in SKNTLU membership also hampered the party's organizational efforts.

The acrimonious relations between the PAM and the Labour Party since 1980 can perhaps be best illustrated by a brief cataloging of the allegations each has hurled against the other through their respective party organs. Labour has charged the PAM with favoring the wealthy over the workers; with responsibility for increases in mental illness, drug abuse, and drug trafficking; with "undermin[ing] black self-image"; with association with international criminals; and with plans for a mass murder of Kittitians in the style of the 1978 Jonestown, Guyana, massacre. For its part, the PAM has accused the Labourites of burning sugarcane fields; of physically assaulting PAM candidates and threatening others, including the prime minister; and of employing "communist tactics" in an effort to destabilize the country and establish a one-party state.

Despite the results of the 1984 elections, the Labour Party remained a political force on St. Kitts, although in the opinion of most observers its prospects for a return to power in the 1989 election were not promising. A reassumption of power by Labour under its platform of the mid-1980s would pose a serious dilemma for the two-island federation, as it would almost certainly precipitate the secession of Nevis.

The party that would lead such a movement, the NRP, continued to dominate political life on Nevis in the late 1980s. Organized as a secessionist movement, the NRP had a poorly defined political ideology. As a coalition partner with the PAM since 1980, however, it supported the moderate policies of Simmonds and his advisers. After the 1984 elections, the NRP technically no longer held the balance of power in the National Assembly, since the PAM took six of the eleven seats contested. There were no public indications of tension between the two parties, however, and the coalition appeared secure as it looked toward another electoral test in 1989.

Data as of November 1987



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