For the next five weeks, the country will be in election mode as the St Joseph by-election takes place on November 4, just 13 days after the October 21 local government election.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the St Joseph election date at the Parliament sitting yesterday, some three hours after House Speaker Wade Mark had officially declared the seat vacant.
The by-election was triggered by former MP Herbert Volney’s resignation from the United National Congress (UNC) to join the Independent Liberal Party (ILP).
The Constitution states if an MP resigns from the party in which he was elected, the Speaker has authority to declare that seat vacant.
Volney did not legally challenge the Speaker’s position, paving the way for a by-election.
The Prime Minister said, “I want to advise this honourable House today that in keeping with good governance practices and democratic principles, the seat of St Joseph, having been declared vacant today, the date for the by-election in St Joseph, I’ve advised his Excellency the President, shall be November 4, 2013.”
The by-election will take place just two days after the Divali holiday, which will be observed on November 2.
The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) stated yesterday Cabinet was informed of the date to declare the Divali holiday, and the organisation has no problem with the November 4 by-election date.
Persad-Bissessar said history was being created under her tenure—with four elections in one year—the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election which was held in January, the Chaguanas West by-election, the October 21 local government election and the St Joseph by-election.
She stressed under her administration, democracy reigned supreme, unlike under the People’s National Movement (PNM) when former prime minister Patrick Manning postponed elections.
“Mr Speaker, it is significant to note that this has been a departure from the past when elections were deferred and deferred and postponed before, time and again, because some probably felt holding them was not in the political interest of the ruling party at that time,” she said.
“That is not so today, Mr Speaker; I have said before and I say again now that the Government that I lead will always put the people’s interest ahead of any narrow political interest and that we will be judged by how we serve the country first and party second,” she added.
She pointed out the Manning government used its parliamentary majority on three occasions to defer the local government polls.
“We have that majority, too, Mr Speaker; we have it now but we have not used the majority to abuse the rights and the public interest of Trinidad and Tobago as a whole,” she said.
“So, Mr Speaker, we on this side we are not fearful of the people’s assessment of our performance,” she added.
She said her Government learns from listening to the people and that is why there is a partnership.
Persad-Bissessar said there was the view the elections would be deferred as she pointed out that even former Port of Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing was calling for a postponement of the local government election, in keeping with the PNM’s “modus operandi”.
“We did the right thing and so the records will show democracy is strong in Trinidad and Tobago today,” said Persad-Bissessar.
Democracy, she said, will be strengthened under her Government, through legislation.
She noted the legislation which will see proportional representation at the local government election was passed.
The Prime Minister added legislation has already been drafted with respect to the right to recall of an MP and term limits for a prime minister.
“And so we would have kept some of the promises we made when it comes to democracy and functioning of our democracy,”Persad-Bissessar said.
Speaking to the media following the adjournment of the House, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal said the People’s Partnership is working to get a candidate for St Joseph as soon as possible.
He said the partners in the coalition will meet and consider the most “strategic approach” forward.
He added the Partnership will campaign for the local government election and St Joseph by-election together.
Moonilal said there will be discussions on whether partner members want to contest the St Joseph seat.
Questioned on Government’s mood, given two election defeats for the year so far, Moonilal responded, “As a political party, we always must remain confident, notwithstanding the defeats earlier in the year. For the local government, we are a party that is 25 years old so we have structures, we have people all over the country, we have very good candidates, so we are optimistic.”
Questioned on whether Ganga Singh, whom the PM appointed as caretaker, would be an option, Moonilal said a decision will be made soon.
“We have to get a candidate quick because, you know, here, the time is upon us,” he said.
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