Friday, January 19, 2018

August Senate

Martin Daly logo58

Mark Fraser

Since Roman times the month of August, at least the first half of the month, has been poorly regarded. This had to do with the hot summer weather in the Northern Hemisphere and superstition about radiation from the rise of the star known as Sirius, also called the Dog Star, to which animal sacrifices were sometimes made.

Arising out of this and even earlier beliefs of the Greeks, the phrase “the dog days of summer” gained currency to describe the time when the weather was so hot that: “The Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies (sic).”

The reference to Sirius as the Dog Star was not intended to be derogatory. The ancients named the constellations of stars by reference to their resemblance to earthly shapes such as bears, dogs and lions or mythological figures such as Orion and the Centaur.

Of course we regard August somewhat differently because of our tropical weather and our good fortune to be outside the hurricane belt. Nevertheless, as a result of our post- colonial insecurities and the overwhelming influence of North American celebrity culture, we have imported summer into our vocabulary to describe August vacation time, right up there along with the import of Halloween and other irrelevancies.

This year, 2014, we found ourselves having an August Senate, that is a sitting of the Senate in August. This came about because the House of Representatives, by a simple (but reduced) majority, passed a bill at the commencement of August to amend the Constitution. One of the amendment provisions came like the proverbial thief in the night.

This bill certainly caused several political fevers, hysterics and frenzies as though an unappeased Sirius was vexed, despite the unabated human sacrifices of our citizens through murder with impunity.

Many ancient calendars list the dog days as comprising 40 days from mid-July to mid-August but some consider the dog days as ending on August 24. Happily for us today, August 31, our Independence Day, falls outside the dog days, although it is guaranteed that the frenzied political barking will continue without reprieve until the general elections or the newly introduced run-off elections are completed.

Whatever the machinations of Sirius, the Parliament for the moment does not sit in the Red House either under the dragon, which the Manning PNM feared and had removed, or the dove, which replaced the dragon, the dove being depicted in what the late scientist and former Independent senator, Julian Kenny, described as being in a defecating position.

Fear of Sirius, fear of a sculpted dragon, what’s the difference? Our rulers act like Roman emperors in their use of bread and circuses and a hodge-podge of other benefits “handsomely” distributed to buy, with the exception of a few, the acquiescence of citizens.

The Senate debated the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 on August 26, 27 and 28. Into this August Senate entered the august personage of the Prime Minister. She came not as Sirius to cause frenzy but perhaps as one of the sirens that sang songs in the Greek islands so irresistible that sailors would lose all caution and attempt to get to the source of the music. Some steered their ships into the cliffs, wrecking them.

The Senate debate did not produce any immediate political wreckage but the Government was unconvincing in its attempts to evade the late, ambush like, appearance of the provisions for run-off elections. The Government’s trustworthiness has probably taken another hit.

The PNM bench in the Senate continued to show its visible deficits in debating skills. In addition, two of them, who should know better, made the same offensive reference attempting to link the vote of a distinguished and now deceased former Independent senator to the 1990 attempted coup.

There was intense focus on the Independent senators inside and outside the Parliament. Some of it made them uncomfortable and was indeed distasteful but the Independents did not lose their heads to siren songs.

I heard a variety of well-argued positions from the Independent bench. These confirmed that the long tradition of careful examination of legislation from that quarter is well intact. The Independents were not unduly unbalanced by the fallout from dog stars, dragons, hawks or doves. We should acknowledge the good faith of their individual speeches, amendments and vote of three for the bill and six against unless the contrary appears.

However the 15-day period between a general election and run-off elections remains a worry for me. The waiting periods following 17-17-2 and the 18-18 results did not provide any opportunity to intimidate or suborn voters. Their task was done when the wait occurred. Given our weak law enforcement environment, I believe that the disruptive potential of run-offs on a constituency-by-constituency basis has been underestimated, but we will soon see for real how it unfolds.