The statements made by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in September 2013 that the three-party system favoured the People’s National Movement (PNM) are the genesis and “driving force” behind the run-off system, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday.
“Mr Speaker, that is a quotation from the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago in September 2013: ‘These third parties always help the PNM. It did during the ONR time. It did so during the time when Team Unity fought the UNC and again (in 2007) when the COP and the UNC fought separately and has the dangerous potential for doing so now’,” Rowley said. “Ah-ha!” Chief Whip Marlene McDonald enthused.
“We quote the Prime Minister’s statements in September 2013 where we understand the basis from which these amendments are coming,” Rowley said. “Notwithstanding any description and sugar-coating about deepening democracy, participation of the people and power to the people, that is the driving factor behind what is in this House today,” the Opposition Leader added. He said the fact was that Prime Minister believes that in a three-way fight the PNM can win, but in a one-on-one battle, her party is better poised for victory.
“These amendments are legislation to treat with the UNC’s understanding of the local politics, legislation to treat with the UNC’s fears of the outcome of the next general election. And that legislation puts the interest of a political party over the interest of the national community,” Rowley said.
“The one thing that is not going to happen is that the people of Trinidad and Tobago would be encouraged to swallow this on any sweet talk by the Prime Minister in Parliament,” he said.
Rowley said the run-off proposal would create an unprecedented situation.
“After the election day, the elections are over and nothing changed the electoral result,” he said, referring to the current system. But he said the run-off poll allows for the campaign to continue, “creating an environment of 14 days of splurge and bribery and chaos to try and change the result”. “And they boldface enough to come in the Parliament and ask our support for that. Well, if the leader of the COP is the turkey who is prepared to vote for thanksgiving, the PNM is not prepared to vote for that”, Rowley said, to desk-thumping.
Rowley compared what was taking place in Trinidad and Tobago with what occurred in Britain in 2011. Within that coalition government in Britain, there was an attempt to introduce alternative voting, whereby people rank candidates on the ballot paper to replace the first-past-the-post system. He said however the British Government “had the decency” to recognise that before it could introduce such an important change, it needed to elicit the views of the people. The proposal was resoundingly rejected in a referendum. Rowley said if the UK, the mother of parliamentary democracies “from which this country takes its template”, was so cautious, why was this Government proceeding with a bill, which was a surprise to even half the members of the Cabinet when it was tabled last Monday.
Rowley said he had seen this Government at work for the past four years, “and the one thing that has been very consistent with this Government is that whenever it finds itself having to explain its actions or its policies or its scandals, it resorts to telling you that the PNM did that too”.
“I was absolutely amazed to discover the Government is taking the position today that the reason why they are pursuing this line of argument with these amendments is because the PNM did this in Balisier House,” Rowley said.
“Shame!” Donna Cox shouted.
Rowley said the Prime Minister spent a lot of time with PNM’s internal discussions and discourse, “confirming one thing—that the PNM has been involved in serious internal discussions about its party’s constitution and I daresay if she had brought other documents she would have been able to show what our discussions have been on the country’s Constitution”.
“However all that she was able to demonstrate is that we can speak with authority on these matters because we have discussed them at length and what we have accepted is also taking in account the downsides of many of these things... But we are not going to be taken by the sweet talk of the Prime Minister and her advertisements,” he said.
Rowley said the same way the Prime Minister could quote PNM’s internal discussions that did not form part of its party’s constitutional amendments, the PNM had to ask why should it trust this Government.
Rowley said the Prime Minister wrote to him earlier in her administration and invited him to send two names of persons to be put on a commission which was on assignment to review the Constitution. He said he wrote back asking for clarification. He said the Prime Minister never responded.
Rowley said he was putting the Government on notice that there is a legal requirement. “Once you embark on the consultative process, there is settled law as to how that consultation should proceed if it is to satisfy the rubric of consultation,” he said.