Sunday, February 25, 2018

Approval of reform proposals based on party supporters

The three different sections of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 have mixed support depending on party affiliation, according to preliminary findings of an ongoing survey being conducted on the bill by this writer.

The sections pertaining to two-term limits for prime ministers and the right to recall non-performing members of Parliament have overwhelming support across party lines. But the run-off vote aspect has divided support based on party affiliation, with People’s Partnership supporters backing it and PNM (People’s National Movement) and ILP (Independent Liberal Party) supporters opposing it. The COP (Congress of the People)has virtually nil support, with its few members divided between supporting and opposing the bill.

Opponents of the bill feel the run-off portion will hurt their chances at winning closely contested (marginal) seats in a three-way race. Supporters of the bill feel the run-off helps their party (People’s Partnership) to win marginal seats.

People feel prime ministers in the recent past abused their powers (as party leader and as head of government). They feel a constitutional measure is needed to rein in a PM’s behaviour, with term limits forcing him or her to listen to supporters and party supporters.

Voters also said MPs are known to have abused their powers and most of them hardly serviced constituents, with the voters powerless to do anything. Now, with right to recall, MPs will be motivated to service constituents and voters have a chance to fire a non-performing MP.

However, people indicate the run-off portion of the bill needs further explanation as people are not clear about the requi­rements for a revote. They feel it has become convoluted and needs simplification.

The bill has to be re-voted upon by the House and it will not take effect till the next election (due by September 2015).

On term limits, if re-elected next year, and polls show her ahead over the others, it is unlikely Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar will seek a third term in 2020, given that she proposed the idea in the PP’s 2010 manifesto (counting it as the first term).

On recall, the number of signatures (20 per cent) required to invoke a right to recall is almost impossible to obtain. The ten per cent threshold is achievable and people feel it should not have been raised.

And even if the required signatures are garnered, getting a two-thirds majority approval by voters to complete recall is virtually impossible. People feel a simple majority (51 per cent) would have been enough to recall an MP since 51 per cent is needed to elect the MP. In the US, only two governors were successfully recalled and it is unlikely any MP will be recalled, given the stringent requirements.

The amend­-

ment allowing a third candi­date who obtains a mini­mum 25 per cent of the vote and within five per cent of the second-place finisher be included in the run-off is a farce. As it is right now, NACTA polls are not showing any third-party candidate getting 25 per cent of the vote in any constituency. So there will be no run-off with a third candidate in the 2015 election.

Supporters of PNM and ILP are opposed to the run-off portion of the bill, believing it will hurt their chance of winning seats. However, the poll shows the ILP has no chance of winning a seat, save Chaguanas West. The run-off may cost the PNM some seats where it had a plurality lead, ditto, the UNC (PP) in a run-off vote.

Parties will therefore be forced into making coalitions in order to win seats and form the next government (minimum 21 seats).

Dr Vishnu Bisram

via e-mail