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Added pressure for EBC

By Port of Spain \\\\\ Kim Boodram

THE possibility of “tremendous” added costs is now facing the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) with the passing in the Senate, on Thursday night, of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, commission chairman Norbert Masson said yesterday.


Masson, speaking to the Express via telephone, said the commission cannot at this time comment in detail until the bill is viewed by the EBC committee, but there is concern about the implementation of the necessary procedures.

The bill was passed in the Upper House with amendments and must therefore now return to the Lower House for debate. The bill will not become law until passed again in the Lower House, where the Government had the majority in the first round.

Three provisions of the proposed legislation have caused uproar and led to the Government being accused of acting in secret and bringing into the House material that was not vetted by the public through proper consultation.

The electoral changes proposed are a two-term limit for prime minis­ters, the right of recall of MPs and a run-off provision for general and by-elections, which detractors of the bill have said will negate the chances of small political parties at the polls.

The next general election is due in 2015.

Other perceived problems are forecast from the provision in the event of a run-off, including the management of special voters, who are usually accommodated prior to the actual polling day.

Masson said the commission is concerned about what will be required under the election rules in order to put into effect the provisions of the bill and the amendments to the Representation of the People’s Act.

“All the procedures that we have to implement, we have to implement within a certain time-frame,” Masson said.

However, he added the bill is yet to be studied and the commission would not want to be premature or be guided simply by what appears in the media.

He said, though, there is going to be “significant increase in the cost and considerable administrative pressure on the department of the commission”.

The added pressure from implementing the act and its subsidiary legislation, which is new to the electoral landscape, will fall on the Chief Elections Officer and all election officers, he said, including the Returning Officer and all polling-day staff.

“There has to be a big contingency cost allowance,” Masson said. “But we can’t comment in detail until we see the legislation.”

Masson said it must also be borne in mind the commission is and remains an “apolitical body”.

And the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) will not stand for the implementation of the bill, with PNM public relations officer Faris Al-Rawi saying yesterday the party will fight it from every avenue.

“The PNM intends to challenge the passage of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 and it intends to do so in every forum available—from the public platform to the courts,” Al-Rawi said in a telephone interview.

“All options are being explored.”

Al-Rawi said the PNM maintains the bill is unconstitutional” and displays a “sinister lack of logic and naked contradiction of policy” on the part of the People’s Partnership Government.

“The original statement of poli­cy from the Government is that a run-off is designed to cure the mischief of a candidate being elected an MP with less than 50 per cent of the votes,” Al-Rawi said.

“The amendment now allows the run-off to produce a victor with less than 50 per cent of the votes.”

Al-Rawi said neither Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who piloted the bill in the Senate on Tuesday, nor the Independent senators, who voted for the document, were able to explain the conflict. “The extreme foolishness of seeking to cure the lack of consultation on the run-off proposal by introducing amendments to it is something that will not be stomached by the population.”

Al-Rawi said the amendments infringe on established law and procedure, as the first-past-the-post system involves only one past the post, not two.

He said the changes require at least a three-fifths majority and the vote in the Senate was “one vote short” of that.

“The amending act can be struck down on this ground, as well as on the grounds of a lack of reasonableness and proportionality within the meaning of Section 13 of the Constitution,” Al-Rawi said, adding the PNM will do all in its power to defend the democracy of the nation.
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