Wednesday, February 21, 2018

AG: Right-of-recall a powerful weapon


‘On solid ground’: Anand Ramlogan

Mark Fraser

Port of Spain

ATTORNEY General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday the right-of-recall mechanism proposed by the Government in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 is a “weapon” that should not be ignored.

Ramlogan, who argued the controversial bill aims to put power squarely in the hands of the citizenry, said any MP opera­ting under the right-to-recall system would be “on his Ps and Qs” and was more likely to put out the kind of representation the people wanted.

The Attorney Gene­ral was at the time contributing to the bill debate in the Senate at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. He said under the current system, constituents are powerless in the face of non-performance and the right of recall is an important psychological political weapon. “We must not ignore the psychological value of the right of recall,” Ramlogan said.

As he defended the bill, which has been criticised as being undemocratic and a threat to the constitutional rights of the electorate, Ramlogan said the Constitution as it is does not, in fact, guarantee a right to vote.

This right is not enshrined in the Constitution, he said.

The three aspects of the bill that have stirred protest from the Opposition and some parts of civil society are a proposal to limit Prime Ministers to two terms, to implement a right of recall of MPs, a measure the Government has said would give citizens a tool by which to root out non-performers, and a run-off clause that could be applied following general and by-elections between the two leaders at the polls.

Ramlogan said the Government was on solid legal ground with the document, having consulted extensively with top UK attorneys and also with Sir Fenton Ramsahoye, QC. He addressed the proposed run-off system, which has drawn the most criticism and echoed statements made on Tuesday by Prime Minis­ter Kamla Persad-Bissessar the mechanism would give a second chance to small and third parties. Ramlogan said these entities would otherwise enter into oblivion.

This could have happened to the Congress of the People (COP), he said, in spite of massive support, under the current first-past-the-post system. The run-off clause could have come close to Ramlogan’s own situation in 2007, when, as a candidate for the Congress of the People (COP), he gained the second highest number of votes of any COP candidate but lost to the United National Congress’s (UNC) Ramesh Lawrence Mahar­aj.

“Not even our own political leader (Winston Dookeran) was able to win his seat, but had there been a run-off, there would have been a run-off in the constituency of Tabaquite, and it would have been between those two candidates—the UNC and COP—and I cannot tell you with any degree of precision how the other persons would have done, but I could tell you that based on the feedback, I think we would have stood a good chance,” Ramlogan said of that general election.

“The Congress of the People were virtually obliterated and driven into political oblivion, notwithstanding the massive support that we had.”

The Attorney General said one of the beautiful things about the run-off was those voters left without a candidate of their first choice would be freed from political affiliations and would be able to look at the two run-off candidates without bias. He said such a voter would be in a better place to choose the “lesser of the two evils”.

Ramlogan said with or without the run-off, coalition politics has been evolving for a long time in this country and is now a reality of local politics. He said whether or not the parties wanted to admit to it, there were two coalitions on he landscape at this time—the People’s Partnership and a coalition of the People’s National Movement and the Movement for Social Justice, where a round table has been formed. “Whether they want to admit it or not, it is a prelude to a political coalition,” Ramlog­an said.