Thursday, December 14, 2017

Artful election rigging?

COP leader Prakash Ramadhar, the person who chaired the Constitution Reform Commission, supports the Government’s Constitution (Amendment) Bill, and central to his logic is that the run-off provision would serve “to strengthen democracy and allow for the majority of people to choose the winner in a constituency or even in government”. He goes on: “If a certain party does not win, the run-off gives the party an opportunity to parlay with either of the two parties to secure the 51 per cent majority which enhances the options for both voter and party”.

Beyond the question of the run-off is the related question of requirements to be Prime Minister. At page 30 of the Report of the Constitution Commission, it is stated, “The Prime Minister should be appointed first by the President if the party list headed by a prime ministerial candidate earns more than 50 per cent of all votes cast.” In the Constitution amendment, PM Persad-Bissessar deviated from this, proposing instead that “once there is a clear majority—21 seats and more—the President moves to appoint a Prime Minister without fail.” There is a clear contradiction here between the report and the amendment. The Commission was counting votes. The PM is counting seats.

Prakash Ramadhar should spare me his warped view of what constitutes democracy. I prefer Winston Dookeran’s more principled sentiments. When I was a boy my family voted for the Butler Party, knowing full well Butler could not win. As an adult I voted for Lloyd Best once, even though I knew he would not win. Prakash and the Prime Minister want to tell us who to vote for. They want to take away our votes and give them to someone else to aid their own cause. People used to vote for APT James, and for Bhadase, knowing they would not win. 

In our country in the 1990s Rupert Griffith and Vincent Lasse left the PNM and crossed the floor to the ruling UNC as individuals. It is curious that the Constitution Commission did not specify a rule about defections from a party. Should not people who defect from their party be subject to a run-off? 

It should be clear by now that the real purpose of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill is in anticipation of a vibrant third party, perhaps the ILP, in the next elections, and that the prototype for the Partnership’s amendments is the general elections of 2007. 

In the 2007 elections which the PNM won with 45.8 per cent of the votes, the combined UNC and COP got 52.3 per cent of the votes. But the COP with 22.6 per cent of all votes won no seats. If the Constitution amendments now being proposed by the Partnership were in play in 2007 there would have been 15 run-off elections. 

How do you define bacchanal?

As to the second amendment proposed by the Partnership and its leader, that being that the prime minister should be appointed only if the party list he heads earned more than 50 per cent of the vote, Patrick Manning would not have been prime minister in 2007, since the combined total vote for the UNC, COP and others would have been 351,616, compared to the PNM 299,813. Patrick Manning had gotten 46.01 per cent.

Merle Hodge and others thought they were doing Constitution reform. But the Prime Minister, her Attorney General Ramlogan, and Prakash Ramadhar were doing something else. The Constitution Commission was merely a Trojan horse, akin to putting lipstick on a pig. It was a cynical stroke by a desperate party that has seen ruin in everything it touches. 

Dr Hodge has been a hero for people of my generation. An island scholar, she has been a tireless fighter for justice and fair play here and throughout the region. It is a travesty for this Government to use an exemplar like her in such a vulgar fashion. 

I think that using the 2007 election results as the benchmark, the Partnership is hoping that Jack Warner and the ILP will reprise the COP so that many constituencies will see vote-splitting, and  the PNM gets less than 50 per cent of the vote.  Jack will join them if he is made Prime Minister and Kamla and the cabal will be willing to make that deal, such is the level of their attendant cynicism.

Theodore Lewis is professor 

emeritus, University of Minnesota, USA. He has since returned home 

and is mostly retired now