The debate on the Constitution which took place last Monday indeed generated more questions than answers. Our leaders were busily at work, trying to convince voters, analysts and perhaps themselves that they were engaged in an epic battle to change our political landscape for the better.
Some were more philosophical about the whole exercise while others see politics as a game, in which there are winners and losers.
To hear some tell it, it was a struggle for democracy and institutional integrity. Some, not many, supported the proposals because they wanted to provide that MPs who did not perform satisfactorily should be recalled. Others argued the legislation was either inappropriate or unnecessary. Yet some claimed to see some correlation between the number of parties and the nature of parties. There was also much controversy as to just what would trigger demands for the recalling of parliamentarians. Everyone also seemed to know what would be considered an offence for which a recall petition was justified. But what did we learn from the firings which we witnessed earlier in the season?
It is perhaps Jack Warner, who in the context of Chaguanas West, refreshed our memory about the concept of “representation”.
MPs were now expected to visit their constituents, keep the drains and water courses clean, and perhaps supply a box drain or truck-borne water.
Post Jack, MPs were also expected to get roads fixed and paved, and to do all things that were the province of local government.
The problem was that MPs had other roles to perform in Parliament and in their offices, some of which were not compatible with being a “good” representative. The task was to combine both roles, especially in far-flung constituencies.
Failure to get both done was to invite recall.
At any rate, there is likely to be much controversy as to what is the principal responsibility of an MP, now that new standing orders dealing with committees are being put in place.
There were several other issues which consumed the energies of those who took part in the formal and informal debate. One was the meaning of democracy. Virtually everyone either justified what they were attempting to do, in terms of “enlarging or refining democracy”.
Their opponents were either said to be “afraid of democracy”, “dangerous for democracy” or “seeking to restrict its use”.
The problem was it was never clear what “democracy” was about. The term means many things. Was it about the integrity of elections and fairness in voting.
Were parliamentarians talking about “liberal democracy”, “social democracy” or about a “nanny” state which provides more opportunities for community consultation, consociationalism, more transfers, more entitlements, more populism?
Much was said about the virtues of Westminster political conventions, as opposed to French or American models? It was a bazaar of half-digested ideas which could form the basis of a national consultation. Why do we not postpone the debate on proportional representation and the run-off system, instead of locking ourselves into this horrible run-off system which we have adopted and which we will certainly live to regret? Why do we not have a conclave which would have Dookeran and Rowley engage in a non-adversarial town hall meeting?
It is widely believed the Government’s reasons for introducing the bills were imperatives which had nothing whatsoever to do with democracy or unity. If we knew what their agenda was, it might help us to understand their strange behaviour. We cannot take as given the reasons that have been offered us so far, other than they are fulfilling the obligations made in their manifesto. My own view is it had nothing to do with LifeSport and its embarrassments, and everything to do with planning for the coming general election. The PM and
her electoral team were clearly in a panic. They had to prevent vote-splitting such as occurred in St Joseph. They thought they had found a solution to the problem in the recesses of Section 46(I), which allowed them to amend the Constitution without having to make use of a special majority.
Interestingly, there is another important provision in the Constitution, Section 73 (1, 2), pertaining to balloting which is not entrenched and which may be of interest to the Constitution makers:
“The election of members of the House of Representatives shall be by secret ballot and in accordance with the first past-the-post system. (2) For the purposes or subsection, (I) the votes shall be cast in ballot boxes of a design calculated to ensure their efficiency and reliability.”
We do not know by whom this strange section was inserted in the 1976 Constitution and why? Its paternity is still to be established. Perhaps Eric Williams put it in there for reasons best known to himself and Boysie Prevatt. (Sir Ellis Clarke said he had nothing to do with that document as is widely believed).
The Prime Minister has firmly denied her decision to put constitution reform on the agenda had anything to do with election stealing, and the method used to effect it. My own view is the strategies used were very clever, perhaps too clever by half. It was the work of some resourceful tacticians who saw an opportunity to commit “partycide” in Trinidad and Tobago, and used it.
The ultimate aim was to keep in harness all the ethnics who had recently “come back home at Kamla’s invitation”, plus, all those COPpites who vowed they could not support Dr Rowley. The latter might yet have to issue a similar invitation to those self-same recalcitrants to “come back home”, with the proviso being home is a national and not an ethnic category. Kamla! Take warning! History is running out of patience.