Thursday, February 22, 2018

Entering uncharted waters without a life jacket

During the debate of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 in the House of Representatives, the Government stoutly and vehemently defended its proposal for the introduction of a run-off election

This was so members of Parliament who did not obtain more than 50 percent of the votes cast in an initial elec­­tion could only be elected if they obtained in excess of 50 per cent of the votes cast in a second election between the candidates placing first and second in the initial election. This, they posited, was to ensure representation in the House was based on majoritarian rather than pluralitarian support.

Ignoring the views and opinions of a wide range of commentators, as well as those of the Opposition who proved the Government’s argument was mathematically flawed and therefore did not justify their claim, the bill was passed with a simple majority and was subsequently referred to the Senate for further debate and consideration.

I wish to state it is my philosophical and firm belief, while it is enshrined in the Constitution which specific sections require a special majority for amendment, the Constitution is far too important a document for any amendment whatsoever to be made on the basis of the requirement of just a simple majority, to discourage and avoid any possibility of “tinkering” by a sitting Government.

In the debate of this bill in the Senate, it was naturally expected members of the Government, as well as those of the Opposition, would hold tight to their positions for and against, respectively, and, therefore, the posi­tion adopted by the Independent senators, who are regarded as the protectors of our democracy and whose balanced and expected non-partisan views and opinions are highly respected by the population at large, were eagerly anticipated.

At the end of the debate, the Independent senators were

able to convince the Gov­ern­ment to accede to an amendment to increase the percen­tage of petitioners apply­ing for a recall election from ten per cent to 20 per cent, and another to allow such an application to be made after two years and six months, instead of the initial proposal of three years.

The major amendment which surprisingly met with the approval of Government however was where a run-off election became necessary, to allow “the party placing third in the initial election, providing they obtained not less than 25 per cent of the votes cast and not more than five per cent less than the second-placed candidate, to be eligible to participate in the run-off.

The net result of this amendment means with three parties competing in a run-off, the chances of the winner obtaining more than 50 per cent of the votes cast are even further reduced. In fact, it may well result in the sum of the votes obtained by the second- and third-placed candidates being greater than that obtained by the winner.

I wish to submit this totally debunks and contradicts the philosophical platform on which the Government’s initial proposal was based and represents a complete turnaround on their part.

I cannot conclude, without commenting on the view expressed during

the debate by one Independent senator and fully agreed with by the Prime Minister, that “we were entering unchartered waters”. Despite this recognition, both of them voted to take us into possibly turbulent waters, albeit without life jackets. This is reminiscent of the position taken by Dr Lincoln Douglas, who gave all the reasons in the Lower House why he could not support the bill, yet he surprisingly voted in favour.

Finally, I wish to remind the Govern­ment since the bill was passed in the Senate without the support of six of the nine (two-thirds) Independent senators, the Government cannot justifiably claim popular support for this measure, and some deep introspection and even further amendment may be required prior to the upcoming debate in the Lower House.

Albert L Marquez

Petit Valley