Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Imbert takes on Dhanayshar

People’s National Movement (PNM) Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert said yesterday that he was “bothered’ by the fact that a distinguished professor of economics (Independent Senator Dhanayshar Mahabir) proposed an amendment to the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2014, that “is both theoretically and practically impossible to achieve based on history, voting patterns and statistics”.

Imbert was commenting on the amendment proposed by Mahabir to the Bill’s run-off provision, which allows for a three-way run-off between the first-placed, second-placed and third-placed candidates.

In order, however, for a third-placed candidate to qualify, he/she must receive 25 per cent of the votes cast and also must come within a five per cent margin of the votes obtained by the second-placed candidate.

Imbert said based on the general elections over the last 30 to 40 years, the statistical probability of the two conditions being met was zero.

The Constitution Amendment Bill proposes a second poll in instances where the winner obtains less than 50 per cent of the vote.

The original Bill stated that the two top-placed candidates would face a supplementary election. However, there was a strong argument that this provision would kill off third parties.

Mahabir’s amendment was proposed in order to give third parties an opportunity to participate in a second poll.

“Senator Mahabir’s amendment, which the Government has accepted, changes nothing. It is just a cosmetic amendment. There would still be a two-party run-off,” Imbert told the Express.

“The statistical probability of the two conditions (set out in the amendment for a three-way run-off) being met is zero. In fact, if you go back 30, 40 years, those conditions have never been met.”

He said the best chance of a third party meeting those conditions was in the 2007 election, where the Congress of the People (COP) emerged as a strong third force.

The COP obtained 22 per cent of the total vote.

“You would not have a three-party run-off because no third party is strong enough to fulfil those conditions. The COP is a shadow of its former self and the ILP (Independent Liberal Party) doesn’t have the strength to get 25 per cent of the vote,” he said.

Imbert said Mahabir ought to have known that statistically the conditions contained in the amendment were impossible to achieve.

Asked whether Mahabir’s previous statement, in 2007, that third parties were a nuisance, Imbert declined comment. Saying that he was not commenting on statements made in 2007, Imbert said what he wanted to ask Mahabir was why such an amendment was made in such a “stressful and polarised situation”.

“Why propose something which cannot work and say it is a solution? The amendment as proposed makes no mathematical and political sense, would have no impact whatsoever on the next general election (with respect to third parties) and is completely unrealistic.”

Attempts to contact Mahabir yesterday were futile.

An examination by the Express of past election results found that there was, in fact, one single instance where a third party satisfied the two criteria in the Constitution Amendment Bill for a three-way run-off and that was in the 2007 election, in the constituency of Caroni Central.

The COP candidate received 26 per cent of the vote and came within the five per cent margin.

In other constituencies, the COP received less than 25 per cent.

In some constituencies, the COP received between 20 and 24 per cent of the vote--Barataria/San Juan, where the COP candidate received 24 per cent of the vote; Couva North (23 per cent); Couva South (24.5 per cent); Pointe-a-Pierre (21.6 per cent); Princes Town North (22 per cent) and St Joseph (24.3 per cent).

But in the majority of constituencies, the COP achieved 16 and 18 per cent of the vote.