“[…] Under the Westminster system of government, if you are the leader of your political party and you lose a party leadership election, you have an obligation to resign from your position as prime minister—or any leadership position that you hold in a legislature or a body such as the THA…”
The following Letter to the Editor which calls on PNM Tobago Council political leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine to resign in the wake of her party’s 14-1 defeat in the THA elections was submitted to Wired868 by Louis W Williams of St Augustine:
I have been saying for some time now that we need to have as part of the school curriculum—starting at the primary school level right up to form five in secondary schools—an age-appropriate compulsory course on government and political studies as it relates to T&T.
We hear on a daily basis that we need to have a more responsive system of governance, but many of our fellow citizens do not have a clue as to what that means. Similarly, there is a lack of knowledge on the laws and conventions under the current Westminster system (model) of government that currently prevails in Trinidad and Tobago, and many other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations.
The Westminster system does not rely solely on statute/laws/legally enforceable provisions. There are also what are known as conventions. Conventions are effectively unwritten rules which regulate the conduct of government (not excluding political parties). Although these rules are not legally enforceable, they are almost universally observed.
Political pressure ensures compliance by the very few misguided politicians who seek to buck the system, where there is a politically educated, wise, and alert citizenry.
It is effectively an honour system as there are certain matters that, for various reasons, are better dealt with by relying on the integrity and good judgement of presumably honourable men and women who grace the halls of our parliament, the THA, political parties, etc.
Under the Westminster system of government, if you are the leader of your political party, and you lose a party leadership election, you have an obligation to resign from your position as prime minister—or any leadership position that you hold in a legislature or a body such as the THA.
It matters not that your party won the last elections, even if by a landslide, under your leadership. The fact is, by losing the subsequent internal party elections, in effect, the party has indicated that it has lost confidence in your leadership and, therefore, you have no choice but to step down from your leadership position in the legislature, THA, etc.
That was the case in the UK with Baroness Margaret Thatcher who led her party, the Conservative Party, in 1987 to a landslide victory in the general elections. Nonetheless, in 1990 she contested her party’s internal elections and failed to secure the required majority in the first round of voting.
She withdrew as a candidate in the second round of voting as she feared that she would have lost, based on feedback she received from her Cabinet colleagues, and the trends suggested by polling data available to her.
Accordingly, Baroness Thatcher resigned as prime minister once the Conservative Party elected a new leader.
Contrast the above situation regarding Baroness Thatcher with what transpired in Tobago last year in the PNM’s Tobago Council elections where the incumbent political leader Kelvin Charles was defeated and, for a considerable period of time thereafter, stubbornly refused to do the honourable thing and resign as chief secretary of the THA.
Mr Charles and his supporters, in contravention of a well-established Westminster convention, argued that since he was not voted out in a THA election, he should be granted the opportunity to serve out his term as chief secretary—notwithstanding that he had lost the confidence of his political party.
They accused the newly elected political leader of the Tobago Council of the PNM of being too greedy for requesting his resignation. How absurd!
I hope that this travesty is never repeated, and that our politicians and political activists are better educated on our system of government.
Lo and behold, Mrs Tracy Davidson-Celestine is now seeking to join Mr Charles in her disregard of another Westminster convention whereby if you lead your political party into a massive landslide defeat of the magnitude experienced on 6 December—especially if your party was the outgoing administration—then you have an obligation to resign as party leader.
In this matter, there is no wiggle room. That is the honourable thing to do. It will take some doing to find instances where politicians of integrity, who function under the Westminster system of government, have not complied with the tenets of this convention.
The electorate has spoken loud and clear. They were not impressed with the leadership on display from the PNM in the THA elections. The leader must now fall on her sword, and give her party the opportunity for a fresh start, and the possibility of securing victory in subsequent elections.
Do not delay. Resign now Mrs Davidson-Celestine!