READY FOR REFORM: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar addresses yesterday’s 5th session of the Lower House on constitutional reform at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. Listening intently from left (forefront) are Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran and Minister of Labour Errol McLeod. Seated on the upper level are, from left, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Clifton De Coteau and Nela Khan, MP for Princes Town and Deputy Speaker of the House. –Photo: STEPHEN DOOBAY

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ELECTION SHAKE-UP

PM proposes constitutional reform in Parliament 2-year fixed term for PM Right of recall of MPs Second ballot run-off voting Fixed date for elections

By PORT OF SPAIN \\\\\ Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday tabled legislation which will transform this country’s politics and make Trinidad and Tobago the first in the Commonwealth to have the right to recall elected parliamentarians.

General elections 2015 will also effectively be ushering in the dawn of a new era in politics as for the first time there will be a run-off poll-where a second poll will be held to ensure that the winning candidate must get over 50 per cent of the votes to enter the House as an MP.

The Prime Minister is also proposing a maximum two-year term for Prime Ministers.

These provisions will become law as they are expected to be passed in the House with a simple majority.

Debate on the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill is set to begin next Monday.

Persad-Bissessar, in a statement yesterday at the first sitting of the fifth session of the Tenth Parliament, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain,  pointed out that her Government, by amending the Constitution, will be fulfilling a promise made in its 2010 manifesto to empower the people in the political process. 

She said this will be done by imposing a term limit for Prime Ministers, ensuring the electorate have a right to recall their MPs with whom they are disenchanted and the implementation of a second ballot run-off vote.

The Prime Minister explained that a run-off poll is proposed so that each member of the House of Representatives will only get a seat in the House if that person obtains more than 50 per cent of the votes cast in a constituency.

If that member is unable to win by a majority of over 50 per cent then a second poll will be taken within 15 days where the people will vote once again to choose between the two top candidates.

Persad-Bissessar said this will strengthen the democracy in a way that makes the power of the people supreme and will place greater emphasis on the quality of the candidates selected as the question in the run-off will be “which of these two candidates will better serve me and my constituency?”.

“In such a system, the voices of the minority would be respected even as effect is given to the will of the majority and, every single vote would matter and count as the possibility of voting a second time will breathe new life and meaning into the democratic process,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar said this new way of voting will ensure there is no minority MP in the House as she pointed out that over the years, persons have been elected to the House on the basis of winning less than 50 per cent of the votes cast.

“It would be unfair to future candidates who will be elected and who will now come under the revised constitutional provisions for being recalled by their constituents that they should start their term of office as MPs on the basis of being minority winners,” she said.

She said the United National Congress (UNC) which she leads will also consider adopting this process in its Constitution.

Having fixed terms for the Office of the Prime Minister, said Persad-Bissessar, will end the days of “fossilised leadership”.

She said this country has had its fair share of leaders who continued to rule and refused to give way even though it was obvious that the time for change had come which can suffocate new talent and stifle a democracy. 

With respect to the right of recall, the Prime Minister said the people would be able to recall individual members of the House after the expiration of three years from the date of election and this will ensure greater representation at the parliamentary level.

Persad-Bissessar said Queen Elizabeth, in her speech on June 4, 2014, stated her Government will introduce legislation to recall members of Parliament.

The Prime Minister said Trinidad and Tobago will be leading the way and will be the first of 52 Commonwealth countries to so do.

She further signalled her intent to bring legislation (in two weeks)  to have fixed dates for general elections.

“Long gone would be the days of silly boasts and taunts about leaders ‘having the date in their back pocket,” she said. 

She added, “This provides clarity for the population at large and enhances the ability to participate in our democratic life, for all will know the electoral timetable.”

 
 
reform report:
 Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar had led a team comprising of  Justice Amrika Tiwary-Reddy,  Justice Sebastian Ventour, Dr Merle Hodge, Dr Hamid Ghany and Carlos Dillon who conducted consultations on Constitutional reform and submitted a report to the Cabinet.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said following this the public was again consulted and a Supplementary Report was also produced.
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