The “very very same proposals” the People’s National Movement (PNM) is objecting strenuously to in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, were contained in its own party constitution, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday.
Piloting the bill in the House of Representatives, Persad-Bissessar said the PNM’s General Council and Special Convention had “unanimously approved” run-off proposals for the election of its political leader, term limits for officers and a recall mechanism for an “unpopular” political leader in November 2013.
“Oh my God!” Government MPs roared as they thumped their desks vigorously.
“It is an oxymoron for some to profess all the dangers of the measures we have placed in this bill, when for their own party it was all well and good. You know the expression, what is good for the goose is better for the gander,” she said.
However, the Prime Minister stated Government’s proposal of a run-off provision which requires that the winner in any constituency in a general election face a run-off supplementary poll with the second runner up, was in keeping with the People’s Partnership manifesto pledge.
She said the manifesto promised to respect the voices of the minority while acknowledging the will of the majority.
“We are keeping that promise through the provisions in Clause 8 of the bill which deal with having a majority vote for a Member of Parliament,” she said. “No longer would a Member of Parliament represent a minority of persons in the constituency,” she added.
“We are being distracted about run-off elections. But we are forgetting that the basis on which that run off comes, is that we are giving for the first time in this country a right to voters to have a Member of Parliament elected by the majority of voters. That is the crux of the matter,” she said.
She added that all the measures proposed in the bill were designed to strengthen and deepen the democracy. The bill also proposes two-term limits for the Prime Minister, the right of recall for nonperforming MPs and a fixed election date.
She cited and quoted from the amended PNM Constitution, Conversations with the Political Leader on the presentation of views collected by the Constitution Reform Committee (of the PNM), Report of the PNM’s Constitution Review Committee (headed by former attorney general Bridgid Annisette George) and the “Proposed Amendments to the party’s constitution for the consideration of the special convention”.
“I did not think I would ever have to pick up one of these documents in this Parliament,” the Prime Minister stated, holding up some of the documents. But she said “the hypocrisy and the double speak on matters that are so important for the benefit of people of this country must be exposed.”
The Prime Minister noted that the PNM documents stated “there was significant support for the view that there should be a mechanism for the removal of an unpopular leader”. A “synonym” for “the removal of an unpopular leader” is “recall”, she said.
The Prime Minister said the PNM document also spoke of “term limits”.
“Isn’t that what we are talking about in this bill? Term limits for a Prime Minister?” she asked.
“Yes!” Government MPs chorused.
She said the PNM document stated: “There appears to be significant support for it (term limits), that the holder of an office should be limited to two to three term limits”.
“Oooh my God!” Government MPs groaned.
“This is not my document! The hypocrisy, Mr Speaker!” the Prime Minister said.
As she continued to cite PNM documents, the Prime Minister said: “The recommendation for a run-off (in the election of a Political Leader) was unanimously passed by the General Council”.
“Ooooh!” Government MPs roared as they deskthumped.
As the Prime Minister quoted from the PNM documents, Opposition Chief Whip, Marlene McDonald, remarked: “(Like) Is a PNM ting!”
The Prime Minister shot back: “Yes, is clearly a PNM ting.”
This produced laughter and thunderous deskthumping support from the Government benches.
“I cannot see that those on the other side have the moral or consultative authority to not support these measures before this House,” the Prime Minister said chuckling.
She then quoted PNM chairman Franklin Khan, speaking of the run-off proposal for the election of the Political Leader, saying: “The PNM does not want its political leader to be minority leader.”
“Ooooh my!” Govt MPs chorused.
She said Khan went on to say that in a three-person race, candidate C would drop off and there would be a run-off between the top two candidates.
“What is the difference, what is the objection and acrimony, when we are saying that a Member of Parliament should not be a minority member of Parliament and the two highest scoring MP would have a run-off,” the Prime Minister stated.
The Prime Minister said “fear-mongering” was taking place.
“I don’t understand how people can say that having elections is a dictatorship.”
She said dictatorship was not having local government elections for six years as the PNM did.
She said in first-past-the-post system the minority person goes out after one ballot, but in the run-off system a minority (second runner-up) got a second chance “to mobilise every single vote in your favour” in the second ballot.
The Prime Minister said the run-off system would give greater opportunity to third and fourth parties. Looking at the empirical data, she said using the run-off system, there would have been:
\\ one in 1961
\\ three - 1966
\\ zero - 1971
\\ six - 1976
\\ 10 -1981
\\ three -1986
\\ one - 1995
\\ one - 2000
\\ two - 2001
\\ zero - 2002
\\ 14 - 2007
\\ 14 - 2007
To those who were apprehensive about the 15-day period given for the holding of the run-off elections, the Prime Minister said in the 18/18 period and the 17/17/2 period when there was a delay in the appointment of a Prime Minister nobody ran and looted the Treasury.
The Prime Minister said Government would hold elections when they are constitutionally due. “The Parliament would dissolve in June of 2015 and those elections cannot be held after September 2015. ... I will run the term of this Government within the law. We intend to follow the law in this regard,” she said.