The announcement by Lindsay Grant this week that he is stepping down as leader of the People’s Action Movement in St Kitts at the end of September puts the party in transition midway to the next general elections.
PAM made significant gains in the last general elections, but was never able to close the deal on the incumbent St Kitts Nevis Labour Party, and on Denzil Douglas in particular, who appeared at his most vulnerable then.
In the last general elections, Douglas’ team outspent and out-organized PAM, but crucially, they worked the electoral system under a suspect “reconfirmation” process to their advantage.
Serious concerns remains about that whole electoral process in St Kitts and Nevis – where the corrupting influence of money is severe and the blatant use of overseas registration and voting, obscene.
There's an ambiguity in the law that allows overseas nationals who are not usually resident in St. Kitts and Nevis, to register to vote wherever they can ague they have links to, while residents technically 'should' be registered where they live. This essentially creates a two-tiered system.
From my own experience, the Kittian electoral process it is the most flawed in the entire CARICOM region and is too open to machinations.
There was no way PAM was going to close the gap sufficiently on Labour if it was unwilling to play rules that challenge ethics – registering a lot of people in areas where they don’t really reside.
And in a place where the numbers we are dealing with are relatively small – 20 voters here, and another 20 there can make a very significant difference.
Whatever you think of Dougie, he is a serious and fearless political bull-dog, and maybe PAM needed to fight fire with a fire that Grant, by his nature did not have.
In political terms, Grant is very much a gentleman, which in some jurisdictions in the Eastern Caribbean might be an asset, but in the rough and tumble of St Kitts and Nevis, where political tribalism is at a very high level, might not be so.
Grant’s leadership style was cautious – and at times too overtly so.
There are two instances from the last campaign that the party might have lost the opportunity to turn the tide on Douglas -- a night of a protest stand-in on the steps of government headquarters and another time when a PAM meeting was stoned in Old Road and Deputy Leader Eugene Hamilton was injured in the face.
In the aftermath of both, PAM chose caution over militancy – a retreat rather than an in-your-face escalation.
On the steps of government headquarters, when the security forces were called in and demanded that the protesters leave, maybe they should have stood their ground. Dared them to arrest 100 people if they were willing, included the PAM leadership.
If that happened, it would have had, in my view, a real potential to change the trajectory of the campaign and put the Douglas administration on the defensive.
In the stoning incident, it was never used properly to bring national and regional attention to the challenge of an election campaign there.
Beating Douglas called for a boldness and a daring that was not in Grant’s nature.
In a country where the opposition cannot even get a paid commercial – to even announce a meeting –on state radio or the lone TV monopoly – it is clear situations like these call for some unorthodox tactics.
The challenge for Douglas in the upcoming electoral cycle might now be bigger – from both external and internal forces.
Eugene Hamilton and Shawn Richards have both indicated their intention to contest the PAM leadership.
What is clear that any of these two will bring a bolder more daring kind of leadership that will no doubt take the fight even more to Douglas.
But even before that, Douglas might have to be concerned about the rumblings in his own party.
There is a significant section, though it maybe has not reached critical mass, within the Labour Party which is beginning to believe that it is time he goes.
Dwyer Astaphan, his former National Security Minister, has since left – and has been a most vocal critic.
Douglas’ ice-cold relationship with his Deputy Sam Condor – who once was barred by his own government from using the state media for a clarification address – has been well documented.
Watchers there however say Senior Minister and Labour Party Chairman Timothy Harris has genuine leadership potential – and is maybe the man that will save Labour in the long run.
Douglas of course is not going anywhere soon – though in the long term one suspects he covets Nigel Carty to be his eventual successor.
Carty however doesn’t seem to have gained any serious internal party traction.
But in watching Hamilton and Richards from his right, and Condor and Harris from his left – Douglas will have his political minds full in the next two years.
But either of those could under-estimate him at their own peril.