Let the people decide PR Constitution proposal
Posted: Wednesday, November 9, 2005
by George Alleyne, www.newsday.co.tt
Chairman of the Opposition United National Congress (UNC) has, repeatedly, called for Proportional Representation, (PR) clearly the main plank of his argument for constitutional reform.
It is to be assumed that Proportional Representation is his Party's position and not his personal approach to constitutional reform. I have in the past expressed severe reservations about PR, a system which, although Mr Panday may not be aware of this, has immense potential for ethnic polarisation.
Under the existing configuration in the House of Representatives, which in turn dictates to a large extent the composition of the Senate, there appears no chance that any motion by the Opposition UNC for Proportional Representation will see it replacing the first past the post system.
Proportional Representation has done so much damage to fellow Caricom country, Guyana, that whether it is introduced at this round of Parliament or at another in which, say, either the ruling People's National Movement (PNM) or the UNC has the required constitutional majority, either to accept or reject it, there should be the understanding that, if accepted, then before it forms a part of the Constitution there should be a referendum held in which a three fourths majority would be necessary to effect the needed changes.
And in the same way that any fundamental change to the Constitution requires a special majority, not merely of members present at voting time, but of all of the members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate it should require, as well, a special majority of the population for the referendum to be successful. This special majority should be with respect to the entire population of voting age and registered with the Elections and Boundaries Commission.
In other words there would have to be a three fourths majority of the voting age population. Let the broad mass of people decide the outcome of the proposed Proportional Representation constitutional change. This, hopefully, should satisfy those committed to constitutional reform, with special reference to PR.
Should Proportional Representation enjoy the support which would see it through with a special majority then it will be passed.
But it is too crucial a constitutional change to be decided by a literal handful of men and women in Parliament. If, however, it does not win the support of a special majority of the voting age population, then at the end of the referendum Proportional Representation, as far as Trinidad and Tobago is concerned, should be consigned to the graveyard of history. However, should the outcome be overwhelming support for Proportional Representation then this can only be interpreted as the will of the people and must be accepted. Should the converse be true then, equally, the will of the people should be respected.
Still on the question of constitutional change. There should be a measure of legal restraint introduced into the Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago which would limit the number of terms of office of a Prime Minister to three - preferably consecutive. I believe I should amplify this.
Section 68 (2) of the Constitution states: "Subject to subsection (3) Parliament, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date of its first sitting after any dissolution, and then shall stand dissolved." What I am suggesting here, in the spirit of the above, is that no Prime Minister should be allowed to serve more than 15 years or three times the inferred constitutional limit of one term.
I see nothing revolutionary about the suggestion.
Indeed the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, which (the Amendment) was ratified in 1951, stipulates that a President shall be limited to two full terms in Office. In addition, Article 11 spells out that a President "shall hold his Office during the term of four years."
This means that the maximum number of years a person may serve as President of the United States is eight, a little more than half the maximum number of years I am proposing for a Prime Minister. With respect to the US Presidency I am not referring, however, to a situation where a Vice President accesses the Presidency, because a President has died, been impeached or simply resigned.
I have referred to two areas of constitutional concern in Trinidad and Tobago. Some citizens may argue that there are yet others.
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