In declaring the St Joseph seat vacant, the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration appears to be taking a huge gamble. Having lost an election in Tobago and then, a few months later, in Chaguanas West, the United National Congress will sustain another grievous political wound should they lose a by-election in that constituency.
On Monday, House Speaker Wade Mark announced that Herbert Volney, having resigned from the UNC, “is required under Section 49 (a) (4) of the Constitution to cease to perform his functions as a member of the House of Representatives with immediate effect”.
The ousted MP now has two weeks to take the Speaker to court and, if his appeal fails, a by-election must be held within 90 days.
This means this election will occur after the local government polls, due on October 21. Should the UNC fare badly in local government, then it is more likely to lose the St Joseph by-election. So the timing makes the announcement even more curious.
After all, Mr Volney was fired as a Cabinet Minister 11 months ago. Since that time, he has made many scurrilous allegations against the Government on various media, yet the UNC made no move to remove him as MP.
Indeed, up to May this year when he was invited onto a UNC platform by Ms Persad-Bissessar herself, it seemed the party was willing to reconcile with Mr Volney. So what changed over the past three months?
Only one development stands out—last week, Mr Volney was reported to be joining the newly formed Independent Liberal Party (ILP) headed by erstwhile UNC financier Jack Warner.
It therefore seems that the strategists for the People’s Partnership have calculated that, given its decline in popularity, the coalition has nothing to lose by fighting for an already-lost seat now since, if victorious, the Partnership will shore up its fortunes to some extent heading into the 2015 general election—particularly if Mr Volney contests the by-election under an ILP banner and loses.
This, unsurprisingly, is not the spin which Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has put on the issue.
“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the law and when the circumstances arose, as they did in this case ... I upheld the oath that I took by informing the Speaker accordingly as the Constitution provides in section 49 A,” she told the media.
In 1997, however, Ms Persad-Bissessar, then a minister in the Basdeo Panday-led UNC regime, was able to ignore this same oath when former People’s National Movement MPs Rupert Griffith and Vincent Lasse crossed the floor.
Perhaps her ethical sensibilities have improved since then. Or perhaps all such decisions are informed, not by principle, but by political power plays.