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...Daily protests to continue

By Kim Boodram

Daily protests on the Port of Spain Waterfront by activists against certain constitutional amendments will continue until the document is debated in the Upper House. Yesterday’s protest outside Tower D, where the Parliament is held, was spontaneous, but protesters said a deliberate presence will be maintained against the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, which was passed in the Lower House Tuesday morning, after a marathon session that started on Monday.

Among those leading the charge is Dr Merle Hodge, formerly a commissioner on the Constitutional Reform Commission, which was chaired by Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar. Hodge has publicly opposed the bill’s run-off clause, saying it was not discussed during public consultations around the country.

She said the clause in its present manifestation was also not in the People’s Partnership’s manifesto or in the commission’s report, and it is crucial the public be entirely aware of its implications. Ramadhar said on Tuesday the clause was necessary to fill the void left by the lack of a formula for the original aim of proportional representation.

The People’s Partnership under Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will be able to pass the bill with one Independent vote in the Upper House. Hodge said the women’s movement activists intend to maintain a presence at the Waterfront until tomorrow and will return by next Tuesday for the next sitting of the Senate, even though the bill is not due for debate next week.

Hodge said the run-off system has the potential to feed divisive politics and allow it to become entrenched in the local culture. She said she had previously thought the creative process by which the commission’s report had been produced to be delightfully suited to T&T’s multicultural nature, but the present clause is its shadowy opposite and brings none of the growth for which there was an opportunity in the original work.

Hodge said it was sad the work should have boiled down to an election “gimmick” that is contrary to the central purpose of the commission’s work, as it will not embrace proportional representation but discard votes that were not part of either of the two mainstay parties. The protesters would not divulge their plans should the bill become a reality on August 26, but Hodge said the voices of dissent will not be allowed to die off.
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