Monday, February 19, 2018

Beware the ‘voice of God’

 As things stand, the provisions of the Constitution entrenched by Section 54, including Section 54 itself, as has been helpfully drawn to my attention, require special majorities for their alteration. Others, even if perceived by the community at large to be fundamental, may be altered by any government so inclined, it appears, by the expediency of a simple majority, necessarily apparent and transparent, conscience vote or not.

Relying, however, on the spirit as opposed to the letter of the law, wise counsel should dictate a more broadly consensual approach when legislative propo­sals arouse controversy. Indeed, provision for a referendum on important constitutional issues was envisaged by the recent Constitution Reform Commission.

To proceed regardless may not only back­fire on those tempora­rily in the driving seat, as occurred with the unilateral introduction

of proportional representation in the recent local government elec­-

tion. It could also jeopardise our fragile democracy by inviting uncertainty and anarchy. 

Entrenchment is, of course, alien to Britain’s partly written

constitution, which can be altered routinely by Parliament’s passage, ordinarily, of any bill. This makes it even more instructive, as noted by Dr Rowley in the recent constitutional debate, that Britain’s incumbent coalition government, formed on a commitment to review the first-past-the-post system, held a referendum on 

this in which it was 

round­ly rejected.

A similar approach had long since been adopted by General de Gaulle, notwithstanding his towering personal popularity at the time, in his proposal to introduce the direct election of French presidents based on the run-off system, to replace their election by an electoral college. This radical reform was naturally the cause of plenty bacchanal, which was eventually resolved by a referendum in 1962, whereby it was overwhelmingly approved.

Never backward to come forward, Trinbagonians are demonstrably even more politically and constitutionally savvy nowadays, so any government perceived to be unwilling to listen to the chorus of concerns on any issue they consider to be of critical importance will be sure to feel. At any rate, political prudence should warn against future chaos, in that what is done by a simple majority may soon be trumped.

Rawle Boland