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Tuesday, August 26, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
for 25TH AUGUST, 2014
Hours before Senators were set to
debate the Constitution (Amendment) Bill
2014 in the upper House today, a small
group of Congress of the People (COP)
members placed an "X" over the party s
logos on their t-shirts and raised placards
to protest the runoff provision of the bill.
The protest took place during a panel
discussion on the bill at the Himalaya Club
in Barataria, when four members of the
COP left their seats to retrieve placards
that were in opposition to the runoff posi-
The placards bore statements like "Axe
the Praks," "Senators must say no to runoff,"
"Run-off a dagger in the heart of the COP,"
"Prakash the Betrayer" and "Senators do
so to the Run Off."
The protest group was led by Rudolph
The protest, which was mostly silent,
began during a presentation by Barbadian
political analyst Peter Wickham, after he
described Prime Minister Kamla Persad-
Bissessar as the only Caribbean leader sit-
ting who was willing to give up power.
He said, however, that is was unfortunate
that T&T was having the discussion of
constitutional reform in the context of one
party versus another.
"T&T has sacrificed the opportunity to
have an adult conversation on constitutional
change," Wickham said.
Wickham s comments followed a tone
of positive views on the bill, which was
only directly opposed by veteran journalist
Maharaj, who made it clear she did not
support the popular view of the panel, said
she could not support any legislation which
did not stem from proper process.
Noting that the runoff provision was
added to the bill without consultation,
Maharaj said she was in complete oppo-
sition of the bill. She added that as the
COP s general council had taken a position
to have the debate of the bill delayed the
day before it was debate in the lower House,
the party s leader Prakash Ramadhar had
"How can you talk about the COP having
power when this bill was not even discussed
with the COP before it was voted upon?
"When the COP can give an instruction
to its leader and for all I see, the COP s
leader has gone rogue."
Maharaj said the conscience vote allowed
by Persad-Bissessar could not explain
Ramadhar s vote.
"The conscience vote did not release the
leader of the COP from the instructions
his party gave him," she said.
She said while Government was sending
a message of giving power to the people,
this could not be done with a flawed
"You cannot plant autocracy and preach
Indira Rampersad, a lecturer at the Uni-
versity of the West Indies, said the bill
allowed for even the prime minister to be
recalled and said it would lead to people-
She said while there had been calls for
proportional representation, this was not
always the best formula and gave the exam-
ple of a hung Parliament in Guyana as a
result of that system.Rampersad also
expressed fear that if constitutional reform
did not happen now, it would never hap-
This was negatively received by members
of the crowd who vociferously asked for
evidence to support this.
The runoff provision facilitates a second
election if no candidate is able to garner
more than 50 per cent of votes in an initial
election. (See other story)
Only the two parties with the most votes
will be eligible to run in second election
to be held within 15 days of the general
But several sectors of the public have
spoken out against this measure, saying it
was not discussed during the public forums
on constitutional reform.
PM makes case
in Senate today
With protest action expected outside, Prime
Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will attempt
to persuade all nine Independent Senators of
the need to support the controversial Con-
stitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 today when
she presents it herself for debate in the Senate.
The support of at least one of the Independent
Senator is required for the measure, which seeks
to establish a two-term limit for a prime minister,
a system of recall for non-performing MPs and a
runoff system for candidates if no one contesting
the respective seats gets more than 50 per cent of
the votes cast in a general election.
The Independents were tight-lipped on their
position when contacted for comment yesterday.
All government senators have been told to be
prepared to contribute to the debate.
Many citizens and organisations, including the
Law Association and Dr Merle Hodge, who was a
member of the Constitution reform Committee,
have been critical of the legislation, saying the bill
should be delayed so that the public be consulted
on it first. (See Page A26)
Today will be the first time Persad-Bissessar, as
leader of the People s Partnership (PP), will be going
to the Senate to present a bill for debate but it is
not the first time a PM will be taking such a measure
in recent times. In 2009, then prime minister Patrick
Manning went to the Senate to speak on legislation
to postpone the constitutionally due local govern-
The Constitution (Amendment) Bill was passed
with a simple majority in the House of Represen-
tatives earlier this month. Government has 16 sen-
ators but one of them is the Senate President Tim-
othy Hamel-Smith, who does not have an original
If the six Opposition People s National Movement
(PNM) and nine Independent Senators vote against
the measure then it will be tied at 15-15 and the
presiding officer, who is expected to be Senate
Vice-President James Lambert, can exercise his
Labour leaders, NGOs and citizens began an all-
night vigil last evening outside the Parliament,
demanding the immediate withdrawal of the bill
but up to last night there was no suggestion that
Government was backing down.
The bill was passed in a marathon sitting in the
House of Representatives which ended in the wee
hours of the morning but today s Senate debate is
expected to adjourn this evening and resume on
Wednesday. Each senator has 45 minutes original
speaking time with a maximum 15 minute extension.
The sitting begins at 1.30 pm at Tower D, Water-
front Centre, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.
GET IT RIGHT
Axe the Praks
Ramadhar targeted at COP runoff forum
An article on page A8 of yesterday's paper, headlined
Ministry removes derelict ships from sea, carried the
wrong photo. The vessel highlighted in the photo was
neither derelict nor related to the story. Our apologies
to BNC Marine Shipping, owners of the vessel.
Protestors outside the Parliament Building, Port-of-Spain last evening, during an all night vigil ahead of today's Senate debate on the
Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR
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