ST. VINCENT (March 7):- Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace says that he was making a stand for democracy when he did not sit, as ordered by the Speaker, during the meeting of the House of Assembly last Thursday, March 3.
Police threw opposition legislators out of the House of Assembly after they disobeyed Speaker Hendrick Alexander’s command to take their seats.
It was the latest in the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) attempt to pressure the ruling Unity Labour Party to withdraw proposed controversial changes to the Representation of the People’s Act (RPA).
The proposed changes, if they become law, will absolve politicians from criminal responsibility for untoward statements against each other during election campaign.
The changes will also nullify pending court judgements and the possibility of unseating before the next general elections, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration, which has a one seat majority in Parliament.
“I just refused to sit,” Eustace said on his party’s radio programme on Monday, March 07.
“I wasn’t in any way abusive. I didn’t display any disorderly behaviour. I simply refused to sit,” he said.
He repeated the NDP’s position that the proposed amendments are “undemocratic [and take] away the rights of people”.
He said the government was prepared to change the law “just to protect themselves.
“…If you have done nothing wrong, face the court,” he said.
The NDP has rallied its supporters in picketing Parliament and the Office of the Prime Minister to show its disapproval of the bills.
“I just want to say to all and sundry, the protest is not finished. We will announce soon exactly what our next steps will be. I go no further on that at this time,” he said.
Eustace drew parallels between the uprising in North Africa and developments in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“…dictators were allowed to flourish and flaunt and make their own laws for year, taking away the freedom of the people of their countries and now, the people are coming back for their rights. But, we don’t want St. Vincent to come to that stage. So, any person with dictatorial tendencies, or any … dictator who wants to come and take away our rights, we are going to always stand up. … Each time you give up a right, you are worse off and we will stand for that,” Eustace said.
He noted that some might not support the steps taken by the NDP.
“Everybody may not agree with our tactics, there are people who say I am wrong because I stood up. That’s their right to say so. I stood up to protest what I consider a bill which is injurious to our democracy and is a symbol of creeping dictatorship in our country. That is why I refuse to sit. I make no apology for it.
“We in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we have to stand up when things are wrong. I am not saying that if you are in the ULP to leave the ULP. … In the same way, if the NDP was in office, I would expect people to stand up if we did something that was wrong. That is our objective. We cannot have people’s rights taken away. … We must safeguard our court system. We must safeguard the rights of individuals, and in so doing, we will safeguard our democracy,” Eustace said.
The controversial law was sent to a select committee of the House of Assembly.