Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 5th 2014 Contents Stories by GAIL ALEXANDER
Government next week will debate leg-
islation in Parliament to provide for a
runoff poll in elections so that MPs can
only take their seats in the Lower House
if they obtain more than 50 per cent of
the votes cast in their constituency.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar
announced this planned legislation, which
only requires a simple majority vote for pas-
sage,during yesterday s opening of the first
and last session of the current tenth Par-
The session is the final one leading up to
a general election, nine months off.
On the proposal to ensure all MPs are
elected on a majority, the PM said: "This
measure reaffirms democracy and ensures
the balance of power is always tipped in
favour of the people, not the government.
"Over the years, we have seen so many
candidates get elected to this House on the
basis of winning less than 50 per cent of
the votes cast.
"It would be unfair to future candidates
who will be elected and who will now come
under the revised constitutional provisions
for being recalled by their constituents, that
they should start their term of office as MPs
on the basis of being minority winners.
"That will only serve to strengthen any
persons who may wish to use the revised
recall process for ulterior motives."
She added: "It is necessary to protect
against this by having all MPs elected on
a majority basis."
Persad-Bissessar also said legislation for
a two-term limit for the Prime Minister, a
right of recall of non-performing MPs and
fixed dates for elections were coming soon.
She said the moves were to ensure the
People s Partnership administration kept
more of its 2010 manifesto promises
Citing background work on the issue by
the Constitution Commission, she said the
bill to be laid was based on the recommen-
dations and amendments to the Constitution
set forth in the commission s report and
She said: "A Constitution Amendment
Bill 2014 is to be introduced today, which
will propose a term limit for the office of
the Prime Minister, a recall provision and
a runoff poll in elections for the House of
Representatives. These measures require
only a simple majority.
"Further, I will in the near future, lay a
bill to fix the dates of Parliaments so the
dates for general elections will be known.
Such a bill will require a special majority."
On the second ballot runoff proposal, she
said while Parliament was vested with the
authority to provide for the manner by
which MPs were to be elected, "I wish to
change the way we elect our members to
strengthen our democracy in a way that
makes the power of the people supreme."
Persad-Bissessar added: "This means that
where, on a first poll at an election that is
not achieved, a second poll will within 15
days be held between the top two candidates.
"This will place greater emphasis on the
quality of the candidates selected, as the
question in the runoff will be, Which of
these two candidates will better serve me
and my constituency? "
"In such a system," the PM argued, "the
voices of the minority would be respected
even as effect is given to the will of the
majority and every single vote would matter
and count, as the possibility of voting a
second time will breathe new life and mean-
ing into the democratic process."
In recent elections some MPs have won
by slim margins.
Persad-Bissessar added that the runoff
is often viewed as a corollary of the right
of recall, as an MP who was elected with
less than 50 per cent of the votes cast was
obviously immediately vulnerable to a recall.
Such polls, she said, were "widely used
in countries with substantial democratic
traditions, including France, Switzerland,
Argentina, Venezuela, the Philippines, Taiwan
and South Korea.
Persad-Bissessar said Government was
also seeking to expand the existing right of
recall in the Constitution.
She said it would create the ability to
recall individual MPs after three years from
the date of election.
She added: "The right of recall is a term
used to describe a process whereby the elec-
torate can petition to trigger a vote between
scheduled elections on the suitability of an
existing elected representative to continue
"This forms part of the systems of gov-
ernment at different levels in several coun-
tries, including Canada, the United States,
Switzerland, Philippines and Venezuela.
"Section 49 A, which is a right of recall,
is only within the hands of the leader of a
party. It was exercised in the case of St
"What we re seeking to do is to expand
that right of recall to place the power in the
hands of the people and the people of the
country will be the ones to trigger recall of
"The right of recall, Mr Speaker, doesn t
yet exist at Westminster and so this is a
very bold step.
"It may well be that T&T may lead the
way for Westminster because we would be
the first Westminster-style democracy that
will be adopting the right of recall.
"In the Queen s speech (on) June 4, 2014,
she stated that her government will introduce
legislation on the recall of MPs. So we shall
be the first of the 52 Commonwealth coun-
tries." (See pages A5 and A10)
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Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is seek-
ing term limits for the prime minister s post.
During her contribution at the opening of the
first and last session of current tenth Parliament
yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said: "In our present
proposals there is a simple amendment which pre-
vents the President from offering the prime min-
istership to anyone who has served for two full
terms or at least ten years and six months, which
is the two constitutional terms.
"We re of the view fossilised leadership, which
entrenches itself via manipulation and control of
party politics, is an anathema to the principles of
democracy and growth.
"We ve had our fair share of leaders who con-
tinued to rule and refused to give way even though
it was obvious that the time for change had come.
This can suffocate new talent and stifle a democ-
She said whilst American presidents leave office
with dignity and grace, Westminster prime min-
isters cling to power to the very end and are often
forced out of office in indignity and disgrace.
"These were the words I read long ago in an
article by Prof Selwyn Ryan," Persad-Bissessar
"Some 91 countries worldwide have term limits
of two terms for their heads of government. We re
seeking to become country number 92 with term
limits for the prime minister. There are many ben-
efits for this. In the debate, we ll spend more time
(on this)," she added.
The PM also said the Constitution Commission
recommended that the date for general elections
should be fixed.
"It is therefore proposed that the life of a Par-
liament should ordinarily be fixed at five years.
This will effectively fix the date for the holding
of general elections. Gone would be the days of
silly boasts and taunts about leaders having the
date in their backpocket.
"This provides clarity for the population at large
and enhances the ability to participate in our dem-
ocratic life, for all will know the electoral timetable,"
Persad-Bissessar said Government intended to
lay a bill including that reform shortly.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
for future PMs
On March 2, 2013, the Cabinet appointed a
national commission on constitutional reform
to "engage in the widest possible consultation
as a prerequisite to constitutional reform".
It considered: limitations on terms of service
by the prime minister, a right of recall of non-
performing parliamentary representatives,
respecting the voices of the minorities whilst
giving effect to the will of the majority, making
every vote count and also for provision for fixed
dates for general elections.
The commission was chaired by Legal Affairs
Minister Prakash Ramadhar and included
Justice Amrika Tiwary-Reddy, Justice Sebastian
Ventour, Dr Merle Hodge, Dr Hamid Ghany and
Fixed dates for
for 04TH AUGUST, 2014
Kamla wants sweeping constitutional changes...
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal review a
document during yesterday's opening of the fifth session of Parliament. PHOTO: SHIRLEY
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