By George Alleyne
May 26, 2010 – newsday.co.tt
Monday’s General Election which, according to preliminary results, has seen the People’s Partnership win 29 of the 41 seats of the House of Representatives and in the process wrest power from the People’s National Movement has paved the way for changes to be made to the country’s Constitution.
This column would like to see one such change, which takes into account the special position of Tobago and allows for the creation of a senior Cabinet post with the holder of the portfolio specifically responsible for the other half of the twin island Republic. In addition to this portfolio, constitutional arrangements could be made for two Junior Ministers assigned specific responsibilities and with their accessing Office by way of appointments to the Senate.
These two Senators can come from the 16, who as Section 40, 2 (a) of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, states “shall be appointed by the President acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister”. Such an arrangement would in no way diminish the authority of the Tobago House of Assembly. Already there is precedent for this under the Westminster system with particular respect to Scotland for which a Scottish Office was created.
Already one of the successful Partnership candidates has raised the issue of limiting a Prime Minister to two terms, setting a fixed date for a General Election and introducing Proportional Representation. While the first two are policy positions of the People’s Partnership, the third is not.
Should Proportional Representation be introduced, as this column has stated in the run-up to the General Election, this could lead to the People’s Partnership being in power indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the victory of the Partnership has seen the Political Leader of the United National Congress (UNC), Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar, stride into the pages of history as the first woman Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and for that this column salutes her.
The General Election was not constitutionally due until the end of 2012, but had clearly been called early by former Prime Minister, Mr Patrick Manning, in an attempt to head off a merger of the UNC and the Congress of the People (COP). Such a merger would have posed a threat to the PNM come 2010. The irony of it all is that once Parliament had been dissolved and the date for the General Election set, the UNC and the COP not only hastened arrangements for unity, but included other groups and defeated the PNM on Monday.
It was a gamble by Manning which failed and has led the PNM, founded 54 years ago by Dr Eric Williams, into Opposition. The UNC’s linking up with the right wing COP, the Tobago Party, TOP; the National Joint Action Committee and the Movement for Social Justice (a trade union movement organisation) was bad news for the PNM. A not dissimilar grouping of forces in August of 1957, the People’s Democratic Party, the Trinidad Labour Party and the right wing Party of Political Groups had defeated the People’s National Movement in the Federal Elections held the following year.
Additionally, a coming together of parties in 1986, including the right wing Organisation of National Reconstruction, had led to the defeat of the PNM. Monday’s was merely a repeat of history. In the meantime, for whatever it is worth, neither the 1958 coalition nor the 1986 coalition went on to defeat the PNM in a subsequent General Election. What is of immediate concern, though, is that the PNM is out of office after having been convincingly beaten on Monday.
Mr Manning stated, following on Monday’s 29-12 defeat of the PNM that one of the things he would now have to consider was his future in politics. “I will assure you of one thing”, he told PNM members and supporters at Balisier House on Monday night, “that the best decision will be taken in the interest of the People’s National Movement.”
Even before this hint at stepping down, however, there had been discussion as to which of the high profile PNM would succeed him as Political Leader. The choice could easily come from the following three names — Dr Keith Rowley, who won Diego Martin West; Colm Imbert, who was successful in Diego Martin North East, and Pennelope Beckles, former MP for Arima, who was bypassed for the contesting of the seat on Monday.
Meanwhile, the country looks forward to the programme which the People’s Partnership will put forward when the new Parliament is convened.