In the Senate
Support for the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 was last night split among the Independent senators. Speaking in the Senate, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, during day two of the debate on the bill, Dr Dhaneshwar Mahabir recommended, with respect to the run-off aspect, Government adopt the French model of 20 per cent of the votes instead of the proposed 50 per cent. With such an amendment, he felt he could support the bill.
He was the second Independent senator to indicate potential support of the bill. There are nine Independents, and support with conditions was expressed by Dr Rolph Balgobin and Mahabir. On Tuesday night, Balgobin hinted if certain changes were made, he may agree to it.
Dr Mahabir noted: “Once the Government gives serious consideration to the amendment and to the facts presented, I will rest my case,” he said, before wrapping up his contribution.
He went on to explain how the amendment would work. “My amendment to Section 8 of the Constitution is that any candidate who polls at least 20 per cent of the votes cast—in France, it is 12 and a half per cent but I am saying 20 per cent for a reason—is also eligible to contest a supplementary poll where when more than two candidates contest this poll, the candidate who polls the highest number of votes is declared the winner,” he explained.
He said with the French model, the winning candidate is not guaranteed of getting 50 per cent of the votes in the end.
“Let us suppose that in a constituency, you have 20,000 voters and 12,000 turn up to vote and the results are as follows: 5,000, 4,000, 3,000. “Let us assume that according to what Government proposes, the fella who gets 3,000 votes is eliminated. But that fella is a popular candidate...and if he doesn’t go, they (people) refuse to go out to the polls. What happens is that you have 8,000 people who didn’t vote, and he who didn’t vote has agreed to that so we can’t count them, but we have 3,000 people refusing to vote.
What we have here is the first place (candidate) with 5,000 votes and the second-place candidate with 4,000 contesting the election. So we have 9,000 people going to vote and all the first-place winner is going to do is to hold one to get 4,501 out of the 5,000. He could lose 500 votes from his 5,000 and still win an election. Why? Because he’ll vote for himself.
So in the first instance where he gets 500 out of 12,000 votes, which is 42 per cent of the votes, and in the second instance where he gets 4,501 out of 9,000, which is 50 per cent, is that really the 50 per cent you want? The answer is no.” Meanwhile, Mahabir said when it came to the process by which the bill reached him on his iPad and later via hardcopy, Government got a “failing grade”. He said the process of bringing the bill to the people was flawed.