Who will it be?
The controversial Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 has been passed in the House of Representatives and on August 26, the vote of at least one Independent senator is required for its passage in the Senate.
Just after 4 a.m yesterday, after 17 hours of debate, the bill was passed with 23 members voting in favour, 14 against and one abstaining.
Two Government members—Winston Dookeran and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan—voted against the bill while Social Integration Minister Rodger Samuel abstained. All are members of the Congress of the People (COP).
Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar suspended the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility and told members to vote accordingly to their conscience.
The same is expected to take place when the debate moves to the Senate.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan told the Express yesterday the Government would need the support of at least one Independent senator to pass the legislation.
The legislation makes way for fixed terms for prime ministers, right of recall and a run-off vote requiring that every elected MP receives at least 50 per cent of the vote.
In the Upper House, there are 15 Government senators, six Opposition senators and nine Independent senators.
In the event there is a vote of 15 for and 15 against (Opposition and Independents combined) the Senate President—Timothy Hamel-Smith (also a COP member)—would be required to cast the deciding vote.
Ramlogan said the passage of the bill in the Lower House was a “red-letter day for democracy”, with the Prime Minister showing strength and compassion in leadership by lifting the whip and allowing members to vote according to their conscience.
He said this encouraged frank dialogue when compared to other prime ministers such as Dr Eric Williams, who “demanded an undated resignation letter as a precondition to being an MP”.
Ramlogan said he looks forward to the Senate debate, which is always genuine.
He said the Independent senators have shown they are open to suasion and are not easily swayed by public sentiment.
Speaking to the Express yesterday, Seepersad-Bachan said she was glad the debate continues in the Upper House.
“I hope the debate continues and this matter is fleshed out properly so that there is more clarification,” she said.
She said she had no regret on the position she took in voting against the bill as she spent eight years of her life in the COP representing that third force.
Seepersad-Bachan said she believes in the COP and there was space in the country for emerging parties.
She said the bedrock principle of the COP was that in dealing with change, the people must be involved.
The minister said she voted in the best interest of Trinidad and Tobago as these provisions will affect the country in the future.
In the debate, Seepersad-Bachan stressed the need for further consultations with the people and also apologised to Merle Hodge for the attacks against her.
“I would like to join with the Member of Parliament for Tunapuna and I cannot support this bill, Mr Speaker, because if we are to ensure that Constitution reform is anchored in that bedrock principle that the Constitution should emerge out of the collective will and judgment of the people, Mr Speaker, then we should ensure there is widespread consultation on this issue,” she said.
She said the public outcry proves the people want to be part of the reform process.
She said further, the run-off vote will not deepen democracy but hamper it as it is a direct counter to proportional representation.
Multiculturalism Minister Dr Lincoln Douglas, who is also a COP member, expressed his concerns over the bill but in the end voted in its favour.
During his contribution, he said the run-off was of concern because the people felt they were not consulted.
“If the law is for the people, the people must be involved in the making of the law,” he said.
He said the trust of the people was important to good governance.
“My recommendation is very simple: I would like first of all that we just put this whole thing on hold so we can have the discussion and dialogue that is necessary to bring out people on board,” he said.
“I would like if that is not possible (more discussion), to take out this section that is causing most of the angst and the anxiety and the frustration that is building up all around us,” said Douglas.
Nine Independent senators
• Joy Abdul-Mohan
• Rolph Balgobin
• Helen Drayton
• Dhanayshar Mahabir
• Elton Prescott SC
• Ian Roach
• David Small
• Anthony Vieira
• Victor Wheeler