Recent statements by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar as well as the bi-partisan approach to the nomination of Justice Anthony Carmona could suggest that the PM at least may have appreciated the wake-up call resulting from the People's Partnership 12-0 loss in the THA elections. Not only has the Government settled on a mutually agreeable candidate with the Opposition for the country's next President but the PM has distanced herself from ill-advised comments by her Minister of National Security and seemed prepared to acknowledge that the Government has made mistakes in the past in some of its appointments.
Justice Carmona's selection as the sole candidate for the presidency has evoked what may be termed a collective sigh of relief by the country at large. Prior to that, various names were touted as possible options who in one way or the other might have caused fear in the population that the selection of a President would result in further partisanship and division in the society. Former or current politicians were cited in the many reports as persons being considered by the Partnership Government. Similarly others who were not actually politicians but could possibly be seen as sympathisers of the Government were held out as being on the list of potential candidates. Many persons cynically expressed the view that the Government was interested in getting their "man" or "woman" in as Head of State.
It was almost at the eleventh hour that viable candidates who who had backgrounds as judicial officers emerged. First it was Justice Nelson, an erudite and experienced judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice with an outstanding CV, proposed by the PNM as a possible choice. Then we heard over the weekend of former justice Tiwary-Reddy and Justice Carmona. The common consensus of those looking on was that a judge was the best bet.
Finally following a meeting between the Government and the Opposition last Monday it was announced that the candidate that both sides were equally happy with was Justice Anthony Carmona. This was an unexpected gift to the citizenry. The fact that during the tenure of this administration there have been numerous accusations of partisanship in many of their various appointments could not have nurtured the hope that in this, the most significant selection, there could be unequivocal agreement by both sides of the political divide.
This in my view is one of the most positive aspects of the selection of Justice Carmona – the fact that both sides could put aside their differences and come to agreement on his selection. The Government should be given credit for the fact that they sought a bi-partisan approach when they had a commanding majority in the House of Representatives, from where the nominations for President springs. This is particularly noteworthy when one takes into account the fact that it was doubtful whether the Opposition PNM could even muster 12 MPs to field a nominee.
If the Government wanted to show their power they could have high-handedly nominated whomever they wished – even a sitting politician – and that would have been that. Of course this would have alienated many people, not just PNM supporters but all right-thinking non-aligned persons who simply want what is best for the country. More than likely members of the Government may have thought of this when they put out an olive branch to the PNM.
The pnm too must be lauded for what has been a mature approach to the issue. They did not attempt to push a candidate of their own who would be bound to lose in any case. In two previous instances where the President was being selected, President Robinson in 1997 and President Richards in 2003, the Opposition fielded separate candidates. The obvious result was then when both gentlemen came into office there was already a taint of partisanship on both of them. In neither case was the Office of President seen to be truly independent of political machinations.
This will not be the case with Justice Carmona who is in the fortunate and undoubtedly deserving position of having the support now not only of both sides of the political divide but also apparently of the entire country.
Fresh from the success of her Government's nomination of Justice Carmona the Prime Minister was forced to deal with the statements made by one of her ministers that Independent senators and all members of service commissions appointed by President Richards should resign, presumably when Justice Carmona is sworn in. These utterances could have created some bad feeling and dried up the goodwill that were then flowing the Government's way if left to stand.
Fortunately the PM stepped in and made it clear who was running the country. Minister Warner's call, she said, was "inappropriate". It was inappropriate for any Government to seek to trespass on the purview of the President. She went further than merely distancing herself from the remarks by stating unambiguously, "Those were his personal views. They were not the opinions of the Government. It is not the place of the Government to call upon or harass anybody to leave or resign". She added, "We must be guided by the rule of law first before we make pronouncements".
If ever there was a public chastisement of a senior Cabinet minister and one who was chairman of her own political party, this was it. The Prime Minister displayed no hesitation in taking the bull by the horns in doing so and thus retaining the goodwill currently being enjoyed by her Government following the Carmona nomination.
It is possible then that the People's Partnership has learnt something of a lesson from the sobering defeat in Tobago. If this is so then it was a defeat that may save them in the end.
* Dana Seetahal is a former