Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley has decided not to speak at today's meeting of the Electoral College to elect Justice Anthony Carmona as the new President of Trinidad and Tobago.
The meeting will be held at the Parliament Chamber at the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre at 2 p.m.
Rowley is objecting to the rule that requires the submission of the text of his statement to the chairman of the Electoral College, House Speaker Wade Mark, for vetting. Rowley has therefore opted not to speak.
However, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has submitted the text of her statement to Mark, in accordance with the requirements, and therefore would be the only person speaking on the occasion of the election of Carmona.
Both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader were invited by Mark to speak on the election of Carmona after his (Mark's) declaration of the uncontested election of Carmona to the office of President.
Rules of the Electoral College are distinct from the House of Representatives and the Senate where members have a right to free speech.
The College is not a debating chamber and, therefore, the procedures are strict and are governed by regulations made pursuant to the Constitution, which provides that the chairman of the College governs the proceedings in any matter not expressly set out in the regulations.
Mark said the requirement that the text of the statements be submitted to the Speaker for vetting 24 hours before the College meets was done to have the election of the President conducted with the decorum and dignity befitting the office.
"Remember, the President is above partisan politics, so you don't want anyone to come and make a statement that can bring the office and the whole process in public ridicule and disrepute. That is what the framers of the regulations intended...If I am to allow anyone to speak, their statement must be submitted for the approval of the Speaker," he said.
Interviewed yesterday afternoon by telephone, Mark said, "As we speak, and I am still in office, I have received the statement of the Honourable Prime Minister. I have not received any other statement.''
Asked whether he had received a statement from the Opposition Leader, he replied, "(Not) as yet." He said he (as chairman of the Electoral College) can exercise some flexibility. He said because of the occasion, he wanted to give the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader the opportunity to make a statement, not going beyond 15 minutes (each).
However, when contacted, Rowley indicated to the Express that he had no intention of speaking under those circumstances since he felt he did not need the permission "or favour" of the Speaker to speak in the Parliament.
"The Prime Minister sent her speech to him (Mark). Well, we would have that," he said, and asked: "Since when does the Speaker have to ask members of the House to speak?"
Told it was the Electoral College (as distinct from the Parliament), he said the Electoral College was "still the House". He said he was not submitting anything for screening.
Told that Mark said it (the requirement for vetting) was to preserve the dignity and decorum of the event, Rowley asked whether he was being undignified whenever he (Rowley) gets up to speak in the Parliament in circumstances where the Speaker does not have to approve his contribution beforehand.
"I am not submitting anything to the Parliament for vetting by Wade Mark," he said, adding he would have "lots of other opportunities to speak (on the election of the President)".
Mark said yesterday that everything was in place to ensure an "extremely smooth process" at today's meeting of the Electoral College.
Mark said all members of the Parliament (House of Representatives and Senate) had been duly notified of the meeting. And, he said, for the first time in the history of the election of a President, the Parliament had made available to all members an agenda and the following documents:
1) a specimen of the instrument for an uncontested election for President
2) a signed nomination paper duly stamped by the Parliament with the names of the persons who nominated the president-designate
3) a curriculum vitae of Justice Anthony Carmona.
Mark said the Parliament wanted to ensure members had the crucial documents so they could follow today's process.
Mark said he anticipated the meeting would last 15 to 25 minutes, if so long.
Arrangements would thereafter be made for the handing-over of the instrument confirming the election of Carmona to the office of the President by the Speaker to the president-elect at the first available opportunity.
A copy of the proceedings of the Electoral College is expected to be given to Justice Carmona at the same time of the handing-over of the instrument. The copy of those proceedings would reflect no recorded views of the Opposition MPs to Carmona's appointment.
The views of the Prime Minister however would be duly recorded.