Viral politics part II (commentary by Joel B. Liburd)

Viral politics part II (commentary by Joel B. Liburd)
SKN PM Harris
SKN PM Harris

Dr Timothy Harris must surely count himself as one of the luckiest men ever. Having been thrust into the Prime Ministership by sheer accident, he has successfully parried dozens of political cut and thrusts, only to end up managing a global pandemic on the cusp of a national election. No greater story with so many twists and turns could have ever been written.

My last column on how a number of self-proclaimed democratic leaders around the world have been slyly leveraging national lockdowns to cement their political power surely raised eyebrows and was energetically discussed at the regional level. So much so that I was asked if there were a Part Two in the works. The short answer was no. But as the days and phone calls mounted, I felt it was essential that we revisit the issue of tyrant rulers, with specific reference to our loving SKN.

To begin with, Team Unity must never be mistaken for anything other than a convenient political arrangement among the political institutions of People’s Action Movement (PAM), the Concerned Citizens’ Movement (CCM) and a small group of disgruntled Labourites calling themselves the People’s Labour Party (PLP).

What does the PLP executive look like now? There’s no more Sam Condor. No more Dwyer Astaphan. No more Douglas Wattley. There’s no more dissent or fracturing in Labour. It’s probably why most of the persons appointed to high office are grossly underqualified, and their last name rhymes with ‘Paris’.

One should not ever confuse TU of being a political party. It’s simple a nomenclature of political expediency under which Harris bulldozed his way past PAM Leader Shawn Richards, and into the power chair. Yellow flagbearers should really be ashamed that after years of being cussed out and vilified by the child-of-Labour Harris, they have no choice now but to exalt their unwanted leader. The current political climate requires TU supporters to hate the red party, but ignore the fact that the current Prime Minister was previously the natural successor to the leadership of the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP).

In Labour, we see that deadbeat MPs have been replaced with fresh blood. Number One isn’t crying with the departure of Asim Martin. He was arrogant… still is too, from some accounts, but he has no direct business with the upcoming campaign. Dr Denzil Douglas and Labour listened to the people and removed him. Being Deputy Prime Minister one year doesn’t guarantee your nomination as candidate. That’s how the system is supposed to work. Simple.

And even if Steve Wrensford in Number Four might be the most senior “new blood”, he’s up against a candidate who is a convicted fraudster. It’s probably all well that we need to wear facemasks in public, otherwise it would be a massive challenge for Lindsay Grant to show his face. People there are thinking: “It’s better Steve takes his time doing the job, because Grant can’t help us from jail.”

Many of my fellow citizens – both with and without academic qualifications – seem to have forgotten what the world looks like without yellow- and red-tinted spectacles. Whilst Harris may have denounced then-Prime Minister Dr Douglas in his political tantrum, he has never shirked the Labour policies that educated him and moulded him. He instead formed a new party with the word ‘labour” in it. And most importantly, he has NEVER accepted the political ideologies, philosophies and institutions that gave birth to either the PAM or the CCM.

So, you see, no matter your perspective on the issue, the political permutations all point to the same product; Dr Timothy Harris is Prime Minister of a Labour background. How did Tim mend fences with Richards and former PAM head-now-turned-convicted criminal Grant? Was it just a matter of saying “Sorry guys, but I now hate Dougie more than you…”?

It is really unfathomable, Harris’ initial grip on power, and now his almost death-like grasp on the throne. Yes, Timothy, you made your point in 2015. In fact, maybe you caused your former mentor to rest, reflect, and recalibrate his political agenda. Take that win if you must.

As only the third elected leader of our nation, Harris is at an historical crossroad. He can be either the hero of a people, and leading them into a future of promise; or being the villainous dictator who has used the law to oppress the people. Methinks it is the latter that is currently playing out right before our eyes.

Sadly, much of the public sentiment seems to be leaning to the former at this time.

Why? It’s simple.

Harris has done the unthinkable and used our Emergency Powers act to punish his detractors. Don’t get me wrong, though. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic does require tough actions by any State leader. However, public congregation and limitation of essential services could have easily been done under the Health Act. This shows up the beleaguered Eugene Hamilton, who is more absent than a credible vaccine at this time. In fact, the candidate set to run against him, Dr Terrance Drew, seems to have made much more mighty efforts to educate the country and constituency about the measures required to keep safe during this pandemic.

There was no need to resort to the Emergency Powers Act. If not Health, then the National Security Act could have been used. Our Prime Minister chose to dust off a missile to swat a fly. Very bad move. And Harris knows it. Attorney General Vincent Byron knows it. Former AG Delano Bart knows it. Dr Douglas knows it. The only two people who are stuck stupidly staring at the headlights of public disdain are Hamilton and his junior minister Wendy Phipps.

The arrogance has not gone unnoticed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has called on governments and leaders around the world to ensure that their respective lockdown measurements don’t end up causing harm to people by those enforcing the lockdowns and perpetuate their time in office.

“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power,” she said. Bachelet – the former President of Chile – further noted: “They should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic – nothing more, nothing less.” Her call comes amid reports from around the world about police or other members of law enforcement resorting to brutal measures to enforce lockdown in their respective communities.

But Harris has ensured that not a damned dog dares to bark by blanketing his absolute power during a time when borders have been shut for more than 21 days. There has been no local case of transmission, discharge numbers are growing and confirmed infections have essentially been suspended.

No one is asking for a street party. But Harris knows all too well what May 1st means to the Labour movement, and his determination to plaster his personal spite and vindictiveness on a vulnerable population is tyrannical – and all in the name of a lockdown that he is speciously exploiting. There is no other way to interpret his action of a six-month extension of the lockdown other than as a direct punishment to those who would dare raise their voice against him. And he’s totally legal in doing it. It’s why TU’s candidates have been smug in their constituencies, handing out branded hampers and politicking as if there were only a mild case of hay fever in Montserrat.

Ironically, abuse of the people’s law to subjugate the people might seem like a master stroke, and the Attorney General would surely pat himself on the back, if his hand could only reach. But in reality, it is the most elementary, pedantic and nakedly irresponsible and petulant move he could have made.

But it’s unfortunate that the Honourable Prime Minister’s vision seems unable to reach further than his immensely impressive girth.

As a child of Labour, he knows the meaning of Labour Day to the party that weaned and educated him. But as a supposed leader of all citizens of St Kitts and Nevis, Harris has poured scorn on civil servants especially, and continuing to offer a paltry pittance to stain their finger on his behalf.

St Kitts and Nevis is one of the few democratic nations in the world where the public service is not unionized; where government workers are hired and fired at will; where promotions are scripted; mediocrity awarded; and where each worker is never sure about what tomorrow brings for them.

We might be small, but now is the time for collective bargaining and worker representation at all levels; where being an employee of the state does not require party membership; where security of tenure must equate a lifelong career; and where the leadership of the nation provides fertile ground for every single citizen to sow the seeds of their dreams.

Mr. Prime Minister, your stewardship time is up. You have abused your power and the people of SKN.

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