The Parliamentary Action of “Crossing The Floor”

(Basseterre, St. Kitts, August 9, 2013) In recent weeks, the people of St. Kitts and Nevis have been discussing, in ways they have not for many years, the Parliamentary action often referred to as “crossing the floor”.

A Member of Parliament is recognized to have “crossed the floor” when he or she no longer supports the Party under whose banner he or she was elected, and so decides to literally and politically “cross the floor”, in order to sit and work with those who oppose the Party of which the “crossing” Member was originally a part.

This phenomenon has attracted considerable international attention and debate in recent years, particularly in Britain, where there are those who believe that if one is elected on a particular Party ticket but one can no longer support that party, one is morally obliged to resign in order for one’s constituents voters to indicate whether they approve of your having “crossed” and still wish you to represent them in Parliament.

At the same time, however, there are those who argue that if one is elected, regardless of the party umbrella under which that election took place, one is free to switch to any party one wishes, at any time.

The Constitution of St. Kitts & Nevis, established in 1983, does not take a clear position on this one way or another – unlike the Constitutions of Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Ghana, Israel, Portugal, Singapore, Trinidad & Tobago and several others, which require any “crossing” Member to resign. And, as is the case in St. Kitts-Nevis, there are also several other nations, as well, whose Constitutions are silent on the issue.

Those who oppose crossing the floor without resigning and returning to the voters argue that in small states, in particular, one or two individuals “crossing” could result in the will of the national electorate being overturned.

And they point out that this overturning of the national will can result from the balance of power in the democratically constituted Parliament being suddenly altered.

Those who support Members’ ability to cross the floor without resigning and returning to the voters argue, on the other hand, that a Member being elected to Parliament gives that Member the right to do whatever he or she deems to be in the best interest of their constituents, and that that includes their right to change their Party affiliation.

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