Friday, February 23, 2018

Run-off provision ‘a Trojan horse’


‘Two-thirds majority needed’: People’s National Movement (PNM) leader Dr Keith Rowley, left, and former government minister Camille Robinson-Regis field questions during a press conference yesterday at Balisier House, Victoria Avenue, Port of Spain. —Photo: ANISTO ALVES

Mark Fraser

OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley has described the run-off provision of the Constitution (Amendment Bill) as a “Trojan horse that has the potential to bring down the empire of stability” in this country.

Rowley said according to the People’s National Movement’s interpretation of Sections 53 and 54 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the proposed amendment requires a two-thirds majority and not a simple majority, as stated by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

A vote by a two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to allow a run-off is the “minimum they owe the population”, Rowley said.

The PNM intends to approach the courts to get its interpretation on the issue.

Rowley is calling on citizens to stand up and make their voices heard on the issue. He made the statements during a news conference at Balisier House, Port of Spain, yesterday to discuss the outcome of the party’s Special General Council meeting on Wednesday.

That meeting finished around 10 p.m.

Speaking in Parliament, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, on Monday, Persad-Bissessar said the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 is being introduced, which will propose a two-term limit for the office of the Prime Minister, a recall provision for MPs and a run-off poll in elections for the House of Representatives.

Rowley said the term limit for a prime minister and the recall amendments are meant to distract from the run-off poll, which is the “real poison”. 

He said the two-term limit for prime minister is “a solution looking for a problem” and a “non-issue”.

Rowley said the recall provision has the potential of providing for an infinite number of by-elections and causing “perpetual electioneering”. He described it as a “disruption with hardly a chance of success”.

The run-off provision has the potential for a defeated party to remain in power, as the President is forbidden from swearing in a Prime Minister once the situation is not rectified.

Rowley described the run-off provision as a “major threat to peace, good order and stability” in this country, and questioned exactly where the provision came from.

Rowley said according to Section 53 of the Constitution, “Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Trinidad and Tobago”.

He said the run-off provision breaches this.

“This proposal for a run-off and a second election in Trinidad and Tobago with the potential of a close election to see a government remain in office after it has been shown to have been defeated at the polls has nothing to do with peace, good order and good government and everything that will flow from that development would be a potential breach of the peace, political and social disturbance and of course a disruption of the Government structure,” Rowley said.

“What we have been accustomed to, which is the smooth hand-over of power when a party has been defeated in Trinidad and Tobago, for the first time the potential will be existing for there not to be a smooth hand-over of power,” he said.

Rowley said all other political parties accepted their election defeats with grace. He said this law seeks to change that.

“After 30 years the PNM lost an election here in 1986, December. It was the quietest night in Trinidad and Tobago and the PNM walked away quietly, having been defeated. The PNM was defeated in 1995 and that was repeated. The NAR (National Alliance for Reconstruction) was defeated in 1991, we had a quiet hand-over of power. This Government is laying the foundation that when it is defeated there will not be a peaceful and quiet transfer of power in Trinidad and Tobago. That is what this run-off is holding out to the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley said.

Rowley said that being the case, Section 54 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago states any amendment against the value outlined in Section 53 requires a two-thirds majority.

“If a government is seen to have lost an election but has legislated provision to stay in office while creating secondary elections which they can influence and try to win, it is for the people of this country to envisage that day when the Government tries that,” Rowley said.

“That day when the Government is seen to have been defeated but is also seen to be trying to bene­fit from what it has put in place to stay in office after it has been defeated, and since that is disorder and potential serious disruption of the peace then we are saying if you are going to do that, as they say they are going to do, notwithstanding all the public objection, we are saying that the mini­mum they owe the population is to do it in the Parliament by a two-thirds majority,” he said.

Rowley said the population must stand up against this.