Senior Counsel Martin Daly yesterday expressed concerns about the run-off provision of the Constitution Amendment Bill.
He also questioned the haste with which Government is seeking to pass this legislation.
In a statement to the Express, Daly
said this provision had the potential to “capsize continuity and the smooth and prompt transfer of power” following a general election.
He said while on the face of it, a special majority was not required, the so-called run-off election was “troublesome”.
This provision requires the holding of a supplementary poll between those candidates who carry the highest and second highest number of votes where the candidate with the highest number of votes does not obtain more than 50 per cent of the votes cast in the constituency.
Daly said the general election played
a central role in the determination and formation of the executive and legislative arms of the Government.
“The Constitution is built around that, but this bill would prevent both the appointment of a prime minister and the convening of the legislature until the result of the supplementary polls is declared and one candidate gets over 50 per cent of the vote,” he noted.
“Such an amendment to the con-
stitutionally mandated first-past-
the-post system has the potential therefore to capsize continuity and a smooth, prompt transfer of power,” he said.
He stressed if the provision had any merit, the proposal ought not to be brought in haste.
“It requires considered thought and meaningful consultation on how the power, which will remain with the incumbents, will be exercised while we await the declared results of supplementary polls,” he said.
Daly said there was something “one-sided” about the incumbent prime minister, who may possibly have been defeated, holding on to office beyond the period of a general election.
He pointed to the scenario where the election results produce a clear winner, but there are run-off polls and, therefore, the country has to wait until those results (of the run-off polls) before the appointment of a prime minister and the convening of a new Parliament.
He added the delay must not be just 15 days (the time during which the supplementary polls must be held, according to the proposed amendment), but the delay could be longer if there are challenges to the supplementary polls.
Furthermore, Daly observed this interim period (when the run-off polls are being held) could provide opportunities for manipulation, financial inducement and coercion.
“There are contingencies and a potential for manipulation surrounding supplementary polls that need mature consideration rather than a hustled introduction of this significant constitutional amendment to the first-past-the-post system,” he said.
“Given our law-enforcement deficits, the 15-day period prior to the sup-
plementary poll also seems open to widespread abuse, such as financial inducement and coercion, because such abuses, like interference with a supplementary poll, will be facilitated when they can be concentrated on a small number of targeted constituencies/constituents,” he stated.
Daly asked whether there was public consultation on this specific idea of the run-off poll. He said he was not immediately impressed by reference to the run-off practice in other countries, “for the simple reason that in Trinidad and Tobago, we cannot form a government until general election results are final”.
“Regarding all three constitutional amendments proposed, are we to swallow 29 pages of this bill, which not only seeks to amend the Constitu-
tion but also seeks to amend the Rep-
resentation of the People Act, the Registration Rules and the Election Rules in a few quick gulps?” Daly asked.