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Democracy under threat

Rowley urges citizens: Reject run-off voting...

By \\\\\ Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

The run-off vote will choke the freedom of the people of this country to choose a party, create instability and open the door for misbehaviour and stealing of the elections, says Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.

In an address to the nation last night, Rowley articulated the Opposition’s position on the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2014 and called on the citizenry to reject the bill and the “chaos and confusion” that poses to threaten the democracy through the run-off voting proposal.

Rowley said the Opposition will speak further on it at a public meeting on Tuesday in St James at 7 p.m.

Last night he detailed examples of how the run-off vote can essentially stifle democracy and prevent a Government  from entering office for 15 days.

He said the run-off poll prevents a candidate from entering the Parliament unless he obtains more that 50 per cent of the votes cast.  

Where none of the candidates obtain the required 50 per cent, a run-off poll must thereafter be held, 15 days after the results having been declared, between the two candidates who earned the highest and second highest number of votes. 

Rowley said this places any new government under threat and creates destabilisation in the country.

He said if a voter chooses a candidate who received the third highest, that person will have to return to the polls to choose between two candidates who they did not favour at first.

“In those circumstances, you can either deny yourself your constitutional right to vote, or you are forced to vote for a candidate and a political party in respect to which you initially reposed little or no confidence,” said Rowley.

“We in the People’s National Movement see the potential effect of the run-off poll as being a retrograde and restrictive step, and I dare say a carefully intentioned choke on your freedom to choose the candidate and party of your choice at the final stage of selection,” he added.

He said further that under this proposal, the Government could lose at the polls, but remain in power for at least 15 days in the event of a run-off vote.

“It therefore creates the distinct possibility that a government which has lost an election remains in control, if even for only 15 more days. This is the Government of Reshmi. This is the Government of Emailgate. This is the Government of Prisongate. This is the Government of an improperly declared state of emergency that was supposed to be a limited state of emergency. This is the Government of Section 34. This 15-day window is the proverbial recipe for chaos and is a suspension of our freedom to select and have a government promptly formed by our own determination,” he said.

Rowley said the people “could very well wake up after an election, and discover that the political party which has won the election with over 21 seats in which it has secured more than 50 per cent of the vote, therefore requiring no run-off, but there remains one seat which requires a run-off, cannot assume office, while the party which has lost the government continues to hold power for 15 days in the first instance”.

 He added, “That one seat will effectively postpone the lawful and swift formation of a new government, and the appointment of a new Prime Minister thereby requiring you to live in a country where a defeated and rejected untrustworthy Government is holding on to power and all the institutions of State. How many contracts will they sign during this period? How many appointments will they hurriedly make? How many persons will they bribe in a last gasp to save  themselves?” he continued.

He said the country will be placed in limbo as he questioned what would be the position of State enterprises officials and technocrats—whether they would follow instructions of the government in place or wait the arrival of the new government.

“This is an undeclared transition period where in the hands of this cabal, any number could play,” said Rowley.

He also pointed out that costs associated with run-off polls would be astronomical, placing greater emphasis and dangers on campaign financing. 

Rowley said the proposed amendment also opens the door to misbehaviour. 

He said if a supplementary poll could determine whether the incumbent government stays or goes, the situation could usher an abuse of State resources.

“A scenario could arise where an Opposition party has secured the most amount of votes but has not crossed the 50 per cent threshold in a seat which is needed to secure victory for the party at the polls,” said Rowley.

“A supplementary poll is therefore required, it would not be extraordinary to foresee that the incumbent government, who effectively lost the election, would now focus all of its resources, and I dare say, the resources of the State on that particular constituency to secure victory,” he said.

“I am also concerned that in instances where there has been wrongdoing when in office, this amendment effectively allows for the incumbent to utilise the 15 days to destroy any evidence of its misdeeds,” said Rowley.


 Debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, which will be piloted by the Prime Minister, is 

 

scheduled for Monday. The Opposition as well as Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner are expected to vote against it. The Government has said the bill needs a simple majority.

 

PNM’S PROPOSALS

 

Some of the PNM’s proposals for constitutional reform: 

 

1. Restructuring the architecture of Government to make Parliament supreme. That all parliamentarians whether on the government or opposition side are to be engaged in the people’s business and service full-time. This will ensure that those who we elect to serve are not distracted by other interests. 

 

2. Increase the powers of the standing parliamentary committees to bodies with the power to subpoena, summon and investigate any aspect of the State apparatus in which the public has an interest. 

 

3. Limiting the size of the Cabinet and legislating the parameters of ministries to allow for more effective management and stability and discourage prime ministers from inventing and/or splintering ministries on a whim or fancy. 

 

4. Limiting the number of senators appointed to the Cabinet, thereby ensuring  the persons who voters elect are in the main the persons running the nation’s business.

 

5. Provide for the appointment of a deputy Prime Minister so that the important office of the Prime Minister ceases to become a “ten-day” plaything. 

 

6. Revisiting the powers of the President and providing for greater participation in the electoral process for that office to encompass a wider cross-section of the country’s stakeholders in a significantly enlarged electoral college which will ensure the President is not seen to be nor is a creature and extension of the parliamentary majority.  This expanded electoral college may include leaders of religious bodies, NGOs, mayors and chairmen of municipal corporations, labour, the universities, THA representatives, etc. 

 

7. Campaign finance reform which would introduce significant levels of transparency with measures being aimed at reducing and managing the influence of political donors on political parties and governments. 

 

8. Make the Caribbean Court of Justice the final Court of Appeal. 

 

9. Provide for full self-government for Tobago. 

 

10. Through effective devolution provide more executive autonomy to municipal corporations and enshrining local government within the Constitution.

 

• Dr Keith Rowley’s full address to the nation can be read at www.trinidadexpress.com

 
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