Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, says the proposal for a second ballot run-off vote is intended to divide the two major races in this country and perpetuate racial voting.
Maharaj made the statement to the Express in a telephone interview yesterday on the constitutional amendments proposed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the Lower House on Monday.
During her statement on Monday, Persad-Bissessar said “a run-off poll is proposed so that each member of the House of Representatives will only become such a member if he obtains more than 50 per cent of the votes cast in a constituency”. She said the run-off poll requires only a simple majority.
“The Government is relying on a provision that says if your are amending a provision of the Constitution which does not expressly state it needs a special majority, it can be passed by a simple majority,” Maharaj said.
“But if what is being put in place is challenged, the court has to look at what is being put in place and if it affects the fundamental rights of people, it can still be declared unconstitutional in that it would have required a special majority,” he said.
Maharaj said he will study the law and have a more in-depth answer next week.
“Now it would seem to me that to have a rerun of an election may be regarded—I have not studied it—may be regarded as requiring a special majority. It is a fundamental change to what we envisaged under the Constitution,” Maharaj said.
“One can understand that proportional representation may not need a special majority but to have a model of proportional representation, which means that the electorate will have to go to the polls twice to choose a government, may be one that requires a special majority.
“As a matter of fact, since I read about it this morning, I have started doing the research on it and probably in about a week’s time I would be able to say more definitely whether the Government is right or wrong,” he said.
Maharaj questioned the timing of the move.
“I think that the Government should not look at this kind of measure as whether it needs a special or a simple majority because where you are introducing a measure which can have the effect of fundamentally changing the right to choose a government, it is in the interest of the Government to have national consensus and not to have division of the population on the issue; and you do not introduce such a measure on the eve of a general election,” Maharaj said.
“This is not good governance and it is not good for the country because the measure is intended to divide the two major races in Trinidad and Tobago, to promote the division of the two major races of Trinidad and Tobago and to perpetuate racial voting in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
Proposed constitutional changes:
Two-year fixed term for PM
Right of recall of MPs
Second ballot run-off voting
Fixed date for elections (not yet tabled)