In the end, given the vote, none of the arguments mattered. They never matter when legislation requires a simple majority of votes for passage.
The Government told us, and senior counsel agreed, that the three proposals passed—a full two-term limit for the Prime Minister; a constituency’s right to recall its putatively non-performing MP; run-off elections in the event of a non-majority MP in a first poll—only needed a simple majority. So it appears that we could have changed the Constitution all along, not now so long after 1976. All we needed were the will and gumption to do it and an opportunistic interpretation of Section 54 of the Constitution.
The People’s Partnership had promised the constitutional changes in their manifesto which, they were at pains to inform us, they had adopted as policy through the Parliament, and which changes they had vowed to keep. Matter done; matter finished; further discussion kaput. Now on to other changes which they will no doubt tell us about in quick order without any need for consultation of any kind.
For the Partnership has come to a firm realisation: since we have the power of numbers and the power of constitutional interpretation, we do not need to consult. They may go through the motions of consultation, but they do not need to.
Look what they did with the Constitution Reform Commission consultations. They went about the place, spoke to small audiences, raised issues and listened to issues raised, and used mostly the ideas of Dr Hamid Ghany, mostly those on proportional representation, to form proposals for constitutional reform. It didn’t matter what the people said. What mattered was to give the impression that a commission authorised by the Cabinet had consulted and then give Dr Ghany the opportunity to use his long-rehearsed expertise to formulate Partnership-friendly proposals.
So it was easy to sneak in the run-off proposal, whether Dr Ghany and the rest of the commission proposed it or agreed with it or not. We know that Dr Merle Hodge and Carlos Dillon didn’t. They announced that it hadn’t arisen in the consultations and had not been raised either in the formulation of the recommendations. Dr Hodge rejected as dishonest the action by the Government of treating it as though it was there all along or in an addendum that the commission had considered.
But in the final analysis, it didn’t matter that the proposal had not arisen because, as I have observed, the commission did not base its recommendations on ideas from the people, but from themselves, especially Dr Ghany.
It must also be remembered that the chairman of the commission was no less a partisan person than the top official of the COP and Minister of Legal Affairs, Prakash Ramadhar—the ultimate Mr Flip Flop. He was clearly there to introduce and manage political bias, and most definitely not to be evenhanded or dispassionate.
So this business of harping on the absence of the run-off in the consultations, pace Merle and Carlos, is one of the many red herrings. The Government had its own agenda and had the power of numbers and of constitutional interpretation to execute it, and do so behind the cover of “broadened’’ democracy. Democracy for this Government is MPs taking the votes of the people and giving themselves as much power as possible.
So it is more democratic to confine the Prime Minister to two terms: this manages prime ministerial fossilisation, facilitates leadership succession, and more easily accommodates fresh political ideas. It is more democratic to recall an MP who is perceived to be not serving well after she has served for three years, even without detailing the conditions of the disservice. It is more democratic to ensure that all MPs are elected by a majority of at least 50 per cent of the votes cast because that would mean somehow they would be able to better serve the minorities who had not voted for them, and never mind that in 2010 not a single MP received less than 50 per cent of the votes cast in any constituency and that several received 60 per cent and over.
It does not occur to the Government they may not be properly representing the majority who put them in office because MPs may be more loyal to the party and the patronage-dispensing Prime Minister than to their constituencies. It does not occur to this Government that, apart from political parties, there are community groupings whose ideas are critical for stabilising national decision-making.
So with its rampant majority and even more rampant understanding of democracy, what more lies ahead?