Even supporters of the electoral system of Proportional Representation will have a hard time accepting the sly manner in which the Government has brought it into existence in this country through the Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill. The unseemly haste in which Proportional Representation is to be introduced in the selection of aldermen in next month’s local government election is unworthy of any government professing a commitment to national consultation in matters of fundamental public importance.
The Bill’s passage through the House in the wee hours of Saturday morning was nothing less than an example of how the Government is prepared to use its majority to bulldoze the Parliament and public opinion. In an issue as profound as the electoral system, no matter the scale of change involved, any government with an instinct for democratic process would have respected the need for due consultation and participation.
It is incredible that the chairman of the Government-appointed Constitution Reform Commission, Prakash Ramadhar, should be supporting this pre-emptive alteration of the local government election process. If he and his Commission support the introduction of Proportional Representation, one would have expected them to urge the Government to hold its hand on the Bill pending the presentation of, and national comment on its full report. Instead, Mr Ramadhar is fully on board with the political expediency involved in the government’s decision to bring this Bill to Parliament in the middle of a local Government election campaign.
The Persad-Bissessar Government is not the first to railroad important legislation through Parliament. This is the record of every government who, despite assertions to the contrary, demonstrates by its actions that it prioritises office above representation. The fact that the Partnership Government had never once raised the issue of Proportional Representation until the Prime Minister announced the election date lends credence to the view that the Bill is being rushed through Parliament to serve, not the country, but the specific interest of the People’s Partnership in the wake of successive electoral defeats in Tobago and Chaguanas West.
Given the issues of trust that resulted in these defeats, it is difficult to understand why the Government would court public dissatisfaction with its indecent haste in the passage of the Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill. The high-handedness with which it has dismissed the Opposition’s concerns is also at deep odds with the Prime Minister’s call for collaboration between Government and Opposition. If the Government were serious about a more collaborative approach to governance, it would be willing to sit down and thrash out the differences between both parties, including the Opposition’s objection to this Bill.
With the Bill having been passed in the House with the Government’s in-built majority, it now moves to the Senate tomorrow where all eyes will be on the Independent Senators. Even if Parliament does not turn the tide on the Bill, the Government should understand the risk of courting public displeasure by its handling of a matter as seminal as Proportional Representation.