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Tuesday, August 12, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
up Govt MPs
for 11TH AUGUST, 2014
Parliamentary debate on Government s
controversial constitutional reform package
headed for late conclusion last night after
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar
launched discussions by freeing her Peo-
ple s Partnership (PP) MPs from collective
Cabinet responsibility to allow them a
At the same time, however, the PM
reminded her MPs of the PP s election
promise to the population for constitutional
"I m releasing all MPs of Cabinet from
the doctrine of collective responsibility on
this matter," Persad Bissessar said at the
start of yesterday s proceedings.
Persad-Bissessar s "conscience vote
announcement" was a negative reply to the
Congress of the People s (COP) call on Sun-
day for Government to postpone voting on
the bill and refer it for further consultations
or a joint select committee.
After COP took that position, party leader
Prakash Ramadhar said he would convey
the stance to the PM.
However, in piloting the debate at 10.30
am yesterday, Persad-Bissessar freed herself
of making a decision on the COP s call and
also freed her MPs, COP included, to vote
for or against the bill, or abstain as they
Debate started on the legislation inside
the Parliament, with groups of yellow-clad
UNC supporters and red-clad PNMites
demonstrating outside for and against the
Last week, controversy erupted in some
quarters after Persad-Bissessar laid the bills,
involving proposals for a two-term limit for
prime ministers, right of recall and the now
controversial runoff poll, where candidates
receive less than 50 per cent of the votes
cast, in Parliament.
But in clarifying concerns about the bills
yesterday---and producing PNM documents
and reports confirming the PNM had dis-
cussed and approved the same procedures
within its party---Persad-Bissessar said:
"It cannot be that we must do things
the same way we always did if we want
change and to improve. The Constitution
is a living organism, it must evolve and
develop when the people s needs change."
Noting the Westminster system of toeing
the collective responsibility line, or risking
resignation or dismissal, the PM added:
"In the circumstances, when the final
vote is taken on this bill all MPs on the
Government side will not be bound by col-
lective responsibility when calling the vote
but will instead take a conscience vote and
be guided by their conscience as to whether
they vote yea or nay ."
The PM added: "I do this in view of the
very fundamental important changes to
enhance T&T s democracy so I give all MPs
the leverage to vote according to your con-
science rather than be bound by collective
She said her Government was committed
to respecting the voice of the minority while
respecting the will of the majority.
Explaining her move to a "conscience
vote," the PM said: "Today, I am saying I
give you that leverage and leeway to vote
as you think best as to whether you will
seek to keep the promises the PP made and
the manner in which you keep those prom-
ises and what other mechanisms you may
"This means when the final vote is taken,
I will call for a division for that each MP
can then register their vote according to
Her announcement brought murmurs of
"amazing..." and "historic..." from PP MPs.
(See pages A5, A6, A10 and A11)
They are allowed conscience vote on reform bill
Up to 10 pm yesterday, several PP MPs and
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, along with
PNM MP s had spoken on the Constitutional
Among COP MPs, only Ramadhar had spoken
up to that time.
He had trained his "guns" on the PNM,
defended constitutional reform as an initiative
but said the runoff ballot was "a very poor but
necessary substitute for proportional represen-
Other COP MPs present were former leader
Winston Dookeran, Dr Lincoln Douglas, Dr
Rodger Samuel and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan.
The latter did not say when she would speak
or if she and other COP MPs might abstain or
vote against, or for the legislation.
Contacted around 7 pm on when the vote
would be taken, PP House Leader Roodal Mooni-
lal replied: "Later..."
Persad-Bissessar, in debate, said a simple
majority was all that was necessary to pass the
bill. Government s full complement of MPs (26)
were present in the House, including the five
COP MPs. Ten of the 13 PNM MPs were present
for the start of the debate.
The PM declared that she had been warned
by some columnists the situation could mean
the PP s general election death but said she did
not fear what the electorate would do.
"These are promises we made and we are
keeping them as they make for better governance
and placing more power in the people s hands."
She said the public would be able to vote for
candidates of choice but parties must campaign
to win not come third or fourth. If they lost, a
secondary poll would allow opportunity to
mobilise every single vote, she said.
The PM said the system would give third or
fourth parties a greater opportunity to gain seats
in Parliament, rather than being " killed off."
Saying smooth handover of power would
remain unaffected, the PM said the President
would appoint a prime minister while any runoff
poll would take place. She said the exact things
the PP proposed were in PNM s constitutional
and party process reform reports, which she read
Persad-Bissessar added: "This is hypocrisy of
the highest form and doublespeak. To profess
dangers about our bill when it was all well and
good for their party, methinks (PNM) doth protest
too much... they must be exposed.
"It was clearly a PNM thing , so they don t
have the moral and consultative authority not
to support this," Persad- Bissessar added, slam-
ming the PNM s "fear-mongering" on the bill.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, right, listens to Dr Merle Hodge, who was among a
group of people outside the Parliament Building, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, who were
calling for the debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 to be stopped. PHOTO:
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