PORT OF SPAIN
Independent Senator Dr Victor Wheeler says unless the Government holds a referendum on the measures in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, he would not support the legislation “as presented”. A referendum, by most definitions, is a vote by the electorate on a single political question or law which has been referred to them by the Government for a direct decision.
“Well in my view to find out at least what people want, you have a referendum…One of the first things I believe should happen is, for example, these are what we propose in the bill; put it to a referendum first if it is within our laws to do that,” Dr Wheeler said. He outlined his position on the matter while contributing to the Senate’s debate of the bill late Tuesday night.
“It is my view Mr Vice-president that the process so far has not produced what the people want. It may have produced what a section of the population wants,” Wheeler said. He said he believed the bill “does not have the cooperation of the people.” “Maybe because the people were not properly involved in its creation. Evidence of this was by the crowds you had outside today (Tuesday) and the various other interest groups in this country that are opposed to various aspects of this bill.
I believe a referendum or least an attempt at a referendum should be the first thing to do. If this bill, it is really on this basis that this bill as presented I would have a lot of difficulty supporting,” Wheeler said.
As the Senate’s debate of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 continued on Wednesday, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan took note of Dr Wheeler’s concerns.
“My learned friend, Senator Wheeler, had made the point about a referendum but the point is we have to have a constitutional majority…you have to put the referendum to have it in the Constitution. Yes, it may be a good idea and all of that but the point is we have to contend with our realities. What the Government is doing is delivering that which is within its constitutional reach and grasp,” Ramlogan said.
He was referring to the position of the majority Opposition party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), that it would not support the establishment of a referendum system. Ramlogan said the measures in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill that include a fixed two-term limit for the Prime Minister, the right of recall of MPs and run-off elections for general election candidates who win constituencies with less than 50 per cent of the votes all only require a simple majority.
Dr Wheeler expressed his confidence that a referendum was the best way to resolve the differing views about the bill. “I believe the only true way to know what the population wants, put it to a referendum, itemise it and let people vote. Otherwise, what will happen is that things that are only passed with simple majority will not have the populations support and it will fuel what some believe would be polarisation of the country,” Wheeler said.