I want to believe that August is Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s favourite month…or maybe every August she feels the need to shake things up.
August 2011 she gave us the failed State of Emergency.
August 2012 was the sneaking in of the proclamation of Section 34.
August 2013 was the Proportional Representation Bill.
And now August 2014, just when I think the Parliament is on vacation, and I can take a break from worrying about the health of our Constitution under this Government, Kamla hits me for six.
It is a two-fold strike. Persad-Bissessar is attempting to make good on an election promise; and at the same time ensure her political survival by enshrining in our Constitution the ingredients for a two-party state.
Trinidad already suffers from five decades of tribal voting, with the two largest ethnic groups firmly supporting either the PNM or the UNC. Swing voters and fence sitters usually eschew voting or wait for whichever newly formed third party branding itself as “one love”, “new politics”, “having integrity”, “people-centred” etc comes around.
Swing voters insist that they vote issues, not race. Intriguingly enough, the current Third-Party-in-Residence, the COP, seems to have lost its voice when it comes to issues of corruption and integrity in public life as it gazes at the population smeared in Treasury gravy from eyebrow to elbow.
The key things that should be noted about the latest proposed amendments to the Constitution are as follows:
- Fixed Prime Ministerial terms in office,
- The Right to recall MPs (Section 49(2) of the Constitution),
- Supplementary Poll or Run-Off in the aftermath of a General Election (Section 67 of the Constitution).
A Fixed Prime Ministerial term is a new addition to the Constitution and so requires adding a clause to the Constitution. It is dealt with only briefly in the Explanatory Note to the suggested amendments: barely 2 short paragraphs.
The suggested fixed term is 10 years, 6 months: either continuous or interrupted. If this amendment is passed, it means that no past or future Prime Minister, Persad-Bissessar included, can serve more than 10 years and 6 months in office. However, they are still free to serve as MPs for their constituencies or as Ministers etc. The limit affects only the office of the PM.
What this bill allows for is this: any PM we have, good or bad, can only serve two terms. This might help us avoid the threat of maximum leadership; but it also means that should we get an effective leader, his/her term is limited to ten years. So succession planning within political parties becomes extremely crucial now.
The longest section of this Explanatory Note deals with the Right to Recall a Member of Parliament. It goes into great detail, explaining how one can petition, the requirements, the roll of the Elections and Boundaries Commission.
And after poring over the almost 2 pages given over to explaining this amendment, I call BULLSHIT… and here’s why.
1. Anyone petitioning for the right of recall of MPs has to be both a registered voter and RESIDING in the constituency. Interestingly enough, our Constitution doesn’t make residence in a constituency a prerequisite for voting.
In fact, not even MPs need to reside in their constituencies. But if you are going to petition to recall your MP, you’ve got to be RESIDENT in the constituency.
If passed as is, that’s loophole number 1 staring you in the face because person’s signing the petition must sign a declaration confirming residence within the constituency…
Editor’s Note: Please click HERE to read the conclusion of this blog at Eternal Pantomime.