THE RUN-OFF proposal in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 will eliminate the splitting of votes and exacerbate the splitting of hairs in elections, Independent Senator Helen Drayton said yesterday.
Drayton yesterday slammed Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, the political leader of the Congress of the People (COP), for his role as chairman of the Constitutional Reform Committee.
She made the statements during her contribution to the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 in the Upper House, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, yesterday.
Drayton chided Attorney General Anand Ramlogan for his “common-entrance” analysis of the bill.
She lauded citizens for their “sterling involvement” in the debate.
Yesterday’s sitting of the Upper House started at 1.30 p.m.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar moved the second reading of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill.
Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi was the first to join the debate.
Drayton followed after.
“I have never witnessed so much passion, so much fervour of citizens in the affairs of the country. I think that is encouraging because it is what democracy is about and it certainly is civic-minded. I think this augurs well for our country’s future. Whether a person supports this bill or not, I think that is secondary to the expressions of love for the country, and I think that it is testimony that we can be dynamic, progressive, peaceful and an exemplary people,” she said.
Drayton commended the Government for making good on its manifesto promises of a recall for members of Parliament and a two-term limit for prime ministers.
“And I certainly commend the Prime Minister for her calm and steadfastness under fire. There will be some more fire,” Drayton said.
Drayton said necessary amendments would put the bill in “good shape”.
“My approach to this bill is to deal really more with principle and substance; I do not intend to dwell too much on the form, the form is really the details in the bill and I think once the process and once the substance, once that is sound, then there can always be negotiations and compromise where necessary to get the bill in shape,” she said.
“Let me add that I am a believer in change and that change must be progressive and it must build upon strong foundations of democracy,” she said.
Drayton said the Constitution is a work in progress but there must be consultation.
She said the changes proposed in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 should have been passed by a special majority.
“The framers of our Constitution would have known that at some point in time, we would want to change the very axis upon which our electoral system is based; however, whilst they did not expressly provide for constitutional majority, I would find it hard to believe that they intended that such a significant change would be made to the electoral system
without due consultation on the specific change with the people,” she said.
“I don’t think it is the way to treat the Constitution; I don’t think it is the way to treat the citizens, more so when I think the Prime Minister is genuine about deepening democracy,” Drayton said.
Drayton said the recall provision in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 would encourage “dysfunctional politics”.
“The downside is dysfunctional politics, more so in marginal constituencies because the elections race is keenly contested in these areas, it may prove quite a challenge for mischievous detractors to get two-thirds of the registered voters to remove an MP for frivolous reasons in a marginal community where the race was so aggressive,” Drayton said.
She said it is absolutely necessary Parliament has a role in giving the MP
a hearing through a bipartisan Privileges Committee of Parliament, once the initial step is taken for the recall.
“So while I fully support the principle of recall, unless there is an amendment to this section, it will be hard for me to support something that is not fair. That denies a person a basic right to some due process,” Drayton said.
Drayton said the run-off provision would deprive citizens of a right to vote if they did not participate in the first election that triggered the run-off.
“It deprives citizens to the right of a second vote, simply because they made up their minds they did not want any in the first place,” Drayton said.
“There is a difference if I choose not to exercise an option to vote but the law denies me the right to do it. There is a vast distinction and I have a fundamental problem with that,” she said.
Drayton: If I choose not to vote, if I exercise that option, so be it, but the law should not deny me the right to vote. Once the party I vote for is eliminated, I don’t want any more.....
Ramlogan: Well, just don’t vote.
Drayton: Well, that is easy to say ....that sounds like the common-entrance kind of thing, ‘Don’t bother to vote’, but we are talking about a very important exercise of democracy and we are talking democracy, participatory democracy is not supposed to be exclusive.
She said a run-off election would be a “retrograde” step.
Drayton gave a tongue-lashing to Ramadhar.
“The chairman of the Constitutional Reform Committee, who is also leader of a political party and Minister of Legal Affairs, said it is a poor substitute for proportional representation,” Drayton said.
“Now, that irks me, that got me because you have spent two years, you have spent my money, all these people who were out there giving of their views, their goodwill, and then you turn around and say that they must now accept a poor substitute. You know, all I can say there is if there ever was a reason for recall....I will stop there,” she said.
She questioned why the leader of a political party would subject the electorate to “an inferior system when their aspiration is for a progressive one”.
“No wise leader settles for poor substitutes to systems necessary for maintaining the integrity and good functioning of pillars of our democracy, unless it serves their narrow interests,” she said.
INDEPENDENT Senator Helen Drayton yesterday said there are several advantages and disadvantages to the run-off proposal to the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014.
It gives voters a second chance to reconsider the candidates with the most votes—people do change
It encourages dialogue between the electorate and parties trying to persuade them between monolithic parties and minority parties
It eliminates vote-splitting
It’s friendly at the polls to coalitions and partnerships.
It does not split votes but it splits hairs and gets people angry
It does not guarantee more votes
in the second round and the result could be a minority vote
It reinforces the majoritarian system of winner-takes-all and benefits large parties with the most votes in constituencies. Contrariwise, it eliminates parties with the popular vote across the country. It thus reinforces the maximum control of one party and, by extension, the control the executive has over Parliament
It fractures third parties or third
parties remain dependent on large parties for a share of voice and
It could be divisive, depending
on ethnic demographics of
constituencies, especially those with a culture of voting based on ethnicity
It is unwieldy, could be disruptive and expensive
It is a Trojan horse.