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Abdulah: Be alert

Warning on presidential election...

David Abdulah, political leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), is calling on citizens to pay close attention as Trinidad and Tobago gets ready to appoint its next President.

President George Maxwell Richards will demit office in March after serving two terms.

In a statement yesterday, Abdulah said the selection of the next President is of great importance to T&T and to all citizens and must be seen as another crucial examination of the governance of the People's Partnership Government.

"Given the propensity of the People's Partnership Government to make very flawed decisions based on extremely poor judgment (the Reshmi affair, the selective and surreptitious proclamation of Section 34, various board appointments) and its resulting horrific track record of bad governance — which the Government tries to pass off as mis-steps from which we should 'move on' — we need to pay attention, Carnival or not, to this decision," he said.

Abdulah noted that although the President is "elected" by the electoral college of the entire Parliament (House and Senate), the fact that Government controls the majority in the House the Government's decision as to who should be President ultimately carries the vote.

"So will party loyalty trump once again the commitments made in the Fyzabad Declaration and Manifesto, which commitments include to make choices based on merit in carrying out public business, including making public appointments and to not politicise the civil service, commissions or State enterprises."

Abdulah said, contrary to the belief of many, this country's President is not just a "ceremonial President or a rubber stamp" of decisions by the Cabinet.

"The President also appoints, in his own judgment nine Independent Senators, which Senators hold the balance of power in the Senate on key votes (i.e. on votes which require a special majority of the Senate). Additionally, as our own practice has shown, the President can also make some crucial decisions — for example, President (Ellis) Clarke chose George Chambers as Prime Minister on the death of Eric Williams; President (ANR) Robinson chose Patrick Manning as Prime Minister over Basdeo Panday who was the sitting PM; and President Richards has exercised his authority under Section 81 of the Constitution to get answers from the Prime Minister about the Section 34 issue.

"He has the constitutional power to appoint the Chief Justice; key commissions such as the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, which in turn appoints judges and other key judicial officers (the Director of Public Prosecutions, Registrar General, Solicitor General, Chief Parliamentary Counsel and Chief State Solicitor — these being subject to Prime Ministerial veto); the Public, Police and Teaching Services Commissions; the Ombudsman.

"All of these appointments by the President are done 'after consultation with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. This means that the President is not bound by the views of these two political leaders...this gives the President a certain amount of executive power in his/her own right.

"Many things can be put in place by a President chosen because of loyalty to party. That has been the key criteria used by the PP to choose State boards and to make many important ambassadorial appointments (Washington, UN, Canada, London etc).

"It is the reason for the Reshmi appointment and to others in the security sector, and to the Central Bank governorship. A President loyal to party can, given his/her constitutional power, entrench PP loyalists in key positions in the State institutions."

Abdulah pointed out that although the People's National Movement (PNM) did the same in the past, the people rejected that style of governance when it elected the People's Partnership in 2010.

"The MSJ's position is that the preamble to our Constitution should be the guide — advancement should be on the basis of recognition of merit, ability and integrity. We shall assess the PP on this issue of their choice of President following the nomination process which deadline ends on February 5," he said.

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