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Proposed EBC changes

www.newsday.co.tt

The Opposition United National Congress (UNC) contradicts itself, in its statement on Sunday, which stemmed from the Elections and Boundaries Commission's (EBC) recent proposals that the number of electoral boundaries in Trinidad and Tobago should be increased from 36 to 41. The UNC has expressed concern that the proposed changes favoured the ruling People's National Movement (PNM) and advanced that any such changes should be done instead by a "representative Commission made up of legitimate political parties represented in the Parliament." Yet even as the UNC has in essence accused the Commission of politicising its process through its (the UNC's) undisguised hint of the EBC being biased in favour of the ruling Party, the Opposition Party's "representative Commission" suggestion, if agreed to, will entrench "ruling Party" control of an accepted function of the EBC.

The United National Congress has tied its suggested change for the EBC to its ongoing demand for constitutional reform. It is a clever, well thought out move as not only does the UNC know that any such change to the EBC would require a constitutional amendment, but its constitutional reform proposals to date have included a call for proportional representation. Traditionally, no political Party in the world, whether in Office or in Opposition would demand proportional representation unless it was assured that the adoption of that system would place it in a position of winning General Elections, perhaps indefinitely. At first blush, the United National Congress' call that electoral boundary changes, as stated earlier, "should be done by a representative Commission made up of legitimate political parties in the Parliament" appears innocent enough. Particularly, as the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines representative, inter alia, as "consisting of elected deputies or representatives; based on representation of nation etc., by such deputies."

However, when taken in combination with proportional representation this means that should a political Party assume power, which does not have a tradition of built-in restraints as exhibited by the PNM, which won the 1971 General Election 36-nil, or the National Alliance for Reconstruction, which won the 1986 General Election 33-3, then it could, conceivably, increase the number of constituencies to ensure it a three-fourths majority. It is unfortunate that the successful battles waged in May, 1962, at the Independence Conference at Malborough House, by the late Dr Rudranath Capildeo, leader of the Democratic Labour Party, the then main Party in opposition to the PNM, for a wholly independent Elections and Boundaries Commission, free of any political control, should have been so cavalierly dismissed by the United National Congress.

The provisions of the Elections and Boundaries Commission enshrined in Sections 70, 71 and 72 of the Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago should not be changed or deleted or removed save through a three-fourths majority in Parliament as demanded by the Constitution. Elected Parliamentarians (as well as non-elected Members of the Senate) entered into a contract with the people of Trinidad and Tobago to "uphold the Constitution", when they took the Oath as Members of the House of Representatives (and the Senate). The contract which permits them to make changes to the Constitution, only according to majorities clearly laid down in it, should be upheld. In turn, the time has long come when the United National Congress should state for the benefit of the country exactly what its proposals are on constitutional reform, instead of this seeming "vikey-vie" piecemeal approach.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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