Executive President, yes…elected by the people

By Raffique Shah
August 23, 2009

Raffique ShahListening to well-informed people, some of them respected intellectuals, argue against a system of government that allows for an executive president, intrigues me. They invariably pursue their arguments using fancy-words-work, but essentially they are little different to the barely-informed masses, who, on the eve of Trinidad and Tobago adopting a republican constitution in 1976, cried “bloody murder” over that minor change in our system of governance.

The ordinary man could have been excused then for thinking that a republican state allowed for whoever wielded power to summarily line up dissidents against a wall and have them shot.

They will have noted what transpired under military caudillo dictatorships, mainly in neighbouring Latin America, that disguised themselves as republican governments. They thought, egged on by irresponsible political leadership, that “sweet TnT” would be stripped of the rule of law, and that the Prime Minister would morph into a “prime monster” with the enactment of a republican form of government.

No such thing happened. In fact, after the new Constitution came into effect, and in the ensuing years it has remained in effect, nothing has changed. Which is where the real problem lies. If tomorrow the Patrick Manning Government were to use its majority in Parliament, and with a little help from dissidents in the opposition and independent senators, proclaim a new constitution that allows for an executive president, I guarantee you nothing will change. As CLR James once said of a particular trade unionist, “He is not reactionary, he is not revolutionary he is just stationary!”

What would be the major differences between the executive presidency system as advocated by the Manning “working paper”, and what obtains under the existing system? First, President Max Richards will seal his place in history as the last ceremonial president. Good riddance, I say.

And here I’m not casting aspersions at President Max, but pointing out the uselessness of the office. What has any president of the country done, since Ellis Clarke’s assumption of that role in 1976 that can be considered worthy of a palatial residence, a full staff, and these at great cost to taxpayers? Nothing!

So why should we be made to bear the costs of maintaining two-man-rats when we could easily settle for one? I mean, it’s not even a case buy-one-get-one-free! For all intents, if not purposes, the Prime Minister is the supreme leader. And I’m not referring only to Mr Manning, whose supremacy in Cabinet is not even a case of first among equals, but first among lasts.

Look at Basdeo Panday’s conduct in opposition. Not a damn dog dares to bark in his party. If he or she does, she is pilloried, drawn-and-quartered, and ultimately consigned to a cemetery that exists in Panday’s warped mind. The same holds true for most political parties we have known: you should read Patrick French’s The World Is What It Is, the authorised biography of the ever-cynical Vidia Naipaul.

So what difference would it make if we move from an all-powerful prime minister to a similarly empowered president? It will make absolutely no difference-unless the person who holds the office is benevolent, is prepared to govern by consensus, not by imposing his will on his party or on the population. That is all, nothing more, nothing less. Well, we save expenditure on a toothless president.

Why, therefore, are people all wired-up over this change that seems inevitable?

What we can argue over is how the president is elected to office. Or how his supreme powers should be constrained by the legislative arm of government. I am all for a president directly elected by the people. Mr Manning is against that. He argues that the result could be a president without a majority in Parliament. He says that is a recipe for confusion, since our politicians are not mature enough to put country before self or partisan interests.

So what else is new? Isn’t that the way it is now, and has been for as long as we have had adult franchise? True, Dr Williams, in his day, was able to conscript support from opposition members-the name Bhadase Maharaj comes to mind, as does Panday when, in 1978, Williams sought support for the un-implementable “Crossing the Floor” Bill. But those were conspiratorial alliances, not measures of maturity.

Any politician who does not want to put his future in the hands of his people should get the hell out of politics! Why say, “Let the people decide,” and then run scared of the masses? Such attitude goes against the grain of democracy, a system all our politicians proclaim as their creed, even if the fail to practice it in their parties, in their Cabinets. In any event, it is difficult to see a president being elected by a decent majority, while, based on the same elections, he fails to secure a majority in the House of Representatives.

So bring on an executive president. Let’s rid ourselves of the post-colonial shackles of an impotent president-and save the office holder from further humiliation. But let us avoid exchange, merely substituting Prime Minister for President. Change must mean something different, something better.


16 thoughts on “Executive President, yes…elected by the people”

  1. Thanks once more Uncle Shah for articulating the realities of Sweet T&T politics. Your cautionary concerns are spot on – changes are inevitable , as long as it is meaningful ,and one that entails involvement of the full democratic will of an informed people as played out by more mature examples across the globe.
    I personally would love to see an end to the counterproductive gridlock that prevails in our nation , especially when one can be absolutely certain that the differences in ideology between the two major political parties and most of the fringe groupings on the periphery are more or less the same . In essence, “six of one, and half a dozen of the other” as the wise one would say.
    There got to be a way that we can educate the desperate, confused masses that comprise of 1.3 population , as to the benefits of cutting the umbilical cord of our much beloved colonial masters ,as well as dismantling the obsessions with negative / destructive elements of our respective mother countries that threatens to keep us perennially undeveloped as 4th class nations . It is imperative as a first step if we are to finally stand up as a beacon of light across the globe. I am talking about a socially thriving ,economically vibrant people who are the beneficiaries of a sound political democracy that can perhaps one day be worth emulating as well. I for example certainly enjoy extending a hand of congratulation to our Caribbean brothers and sisters when ever I see them excel in any endeavor, but cringe deeply as well to see my nation constantly strive to play second fiddle to people with only a miniscule of a percentage of our excellent and abundant natural and human resources- but that‘s a different subject ,for a different day.
    One of the wonderful thing worth copying from mother Britannia that many of our nation’s leaders are scared of is the ability to resign when ever a cloud of suspicion , or very high unfavorable opinions prevails that could hinder their performances duty wise. How unfortunate, as if this was the case , we could be rid of our PM , Opposition leader and Ceremonial President all in one swoop. Sorry Tommy Joseph , I do not want your job of chief comedian. Not in Trinidad and Tobago – the land of the ‘half pregnant.’
    Ah , but where are we going to manufacture a nation crisis to make us into a cohesive Japan, or ,Israel, and should we solicit the help of big brother America as well? Yes, I have it , secession of one of our frustrated / neglected ‘counties,’ and the quest for nuclear technology just like Iran , North Korea ,one time Libya , and Brazil. Just kidding, it’s only a thought. But then , ” all skin teeth ain’t laugh ,’particullaly in Sweet T&T aka Rainbow Country , eh Uncle Shah?
    Again, an excellent job on your part with respect to this poignant article . It’s always good to know that we can depend on you as a solid and objective voice of reason capable of calling it as you see it – without favor or affection malice or ill will.

  2. The crux of the problem re havinng an executive president, is that Trinidad will need to fully adopt the principle of the separation of powers. This political principle requires the separation of the executive, legislature and judicary. No person should be in more than one of these organs of the state. The purpose of this principle is to ensure that no part of the state becomes too powerful. At present Trinidad breaches this principle, as the head of government is also part of the legislature. The same applies to the Cabinet. This allows a prime minister with a sufficient majority to control the legislature. Adherence to this principle would require changing to a process similar to the US one, where the elected president is independent of the legislature. This will allow parliament true independence in law making. The president could be either both head of state and government as per the US model, or you could have a system of shared power between a president who is head of state, and a prime minister who is head of government, as per the French model. Eihter way you will end up with a head of state who actually does something, a government that is restrained in its power, and a legislature that has independent legislative power.

  3. Simply brilliant. Insightful and to the point as always. Time has long passed that we abandon the legacy politics that has stagnated the growth and development of this country. Individuals are only as corrupt and ineffective as the current system allows them to be.

  4. I also support the executive president, but to only show the separation of power between the presidency and the independent of the legislature, does not address the unmentioned term period of the president for Trinidad and Tobago. You can’t surely have such a fundamental change in our system of governance and have the same president if his party were to win the election every five years for the next twenty years, then why change the present status- quo. The president must be elected by the people, not by the members elected by the people of his party. If we want to fallow the system of governance like that of America, let us don’t leave out the most important parts that makes it relevant to good governance.

  5. To Hell with big brother America , as Brian you phonies cannot really decide if you hate that great land , or want to emulate the fine idealistic principles upon which it was initially built .
    Let us instead follow the Presidential lead and ‘excellent performance’ of “good governance,” as demonstrated by our wonderful South American cousins Guyana ,led by Jagdeo the closet Marxist, and wonderful successor to Dr.Chedi Jagan, and his sleeping CIA wife .
    Talk about a comedy of errors , when you have suffering frustrated masses waxing nostalgic for the likes of pseudo African Burnham in Guyana, nut case Saddam Hussain in Iraq ,Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Queen of England right here in the land of the Hummingbird -if you can still find any along with the cascadoo.

    1. I will like very much to have a reply to the contribution based on logical conclusion rather than one clouded with passion. I do appreciate the reminder of what kind of leaders fills the aisles of our parliament today. I think the use of the Westminster system does not seem to have our best interest at heart. The system as we administer it somehow is so easily misunderstood, and lacks evolution. I feel sometimes the Westminster system is made for men that thoroughly understand the meaning of country and being patriotic. The way we use the system to administer governance leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The American system like it or not is more clear cut and concise. In parliament on Tuesday February 02, 2010 in the senate the members were debating the amendment bill for hiring more judges and magistrates .Senator Seetahal in part of her contribution was saying the judiciary is answerable to no one but itself. In good old England today this is not so as the senator stated . In this country of ours every arm of governance wants separation of power, but no one appreciates and enforces accountability. The American system of governance is better designed to hold people accountable for their action or in-action.

  6. Oh yes , let’s discard good old Westminster and instead mimic big brother America where separation of powers is more clear cut and accountability is the norm. Ok, so we have Supreme court judges that are nominated due more to the extent of their political ideology rather than their abilities. This is followed by politicians in Washington that are so beholden to unscrupulous overpaid lobbyist, that the national interest will often take a back seat to the need to pay back financial contributors.
    Get back to me Brian in 2012 when Obama would again make a run to pass his health care bill, and a few of dem partizan neo conservative judges finally die in office while trying to see if the Moose head Alaskan redhead Barbi could take them to the White house political promise land , once more like a certain educationally challenged Texan com Harvard frat boy did with much help from yes, the independent Supreme Court.
    Who exactly
    Senator Seetahal concerned about answerability of our judiciary? Where exactly are these comedians emerging from , if I might enquire? Silent as a mouse on elimination of the anachronistic Privy Council,yet quick to lament about non independence , while our expensive ,local Caribbean Court of Appeal languish, due to some unwarranted foolish tribal concerns. That’s passionless logic for you Brian!

    1. Brian reply
      I am in total agreement with you from “anachronistic to passionless logic” in your reply. In most every event in our lives there is a procedure to do , and if not followed accurately will eventually come to naught. If you may, which one of the two systems of governance best suits our people? Let’s be, for a minute, technocrats in this analysis and give me your point of view. My reason for thinking this way, is that we the people of this wonderful twin island state of Trin-bago, with all our learning institutions that makes us feel so good about ourselves, are not an inventive people except for the G-pan. So we always look abroad for the most simplistically obvious solution to our problems ” do you really think we needed all those crime plans to figure out how to catch criminals ” , Even by the stretch of one’s imagination Senator Deosaran, our resident criminologist can give us a plan don’t you think. We have the UWI , the University of Trinidad and Tobago, the Hugh Wooding Law School and the Arthur Lok-Jack School of Business, and still we sought external assistance by way of, The Penn State University Justice and Safety Institute to help us pick our new police commissioner. We lack passion, we lack patriotism. The countries that have these enduring qualities have fought wars and lost many men to preserve their “freedom and liberties” as they would put it. .

      “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
      Martin Luther King Jr.

      The redhead in the oval office, that and a green donkey you will never see

      1. “Something is good if it works”
        Former Trini A’Level Pol. Sci. Teacher.

        One good question deserves another Brian, so let me enquire, what factors do you think help make a great nation, and distinguishes it from others ? I’ll tell you my concerned friend. It’s firstly ,the moral calibre , and foresight of leaders that emerge , as well as the level of patriotism they possess , and are prepared to encourage amongst fellow nationals.
        So if for example, two rival political leaders ‘talked the talk’ all their lives about love of country and it’s people, then turn around and display a love for everything foreign, including expensive education for their children,lofty medical attention only for themselves, pushing skewed personal aggrandizing foreign policies , while holding on to one of the most fervent vestige of British neo colonial practice, in an unquenchable thirst for nepotism, where does that leave us as a nation?
        Suppose money became a problem by the time the ego maniac Father of the Nation died in 81 , and his successor Chambers , tried to put in place belt tightening mechanisms , yet most of our business leaders , trade unions , and spoiled citizens choose to ignore them because we feel that ‘he duncy,’ then who is to blame?
        In our country , NGO’s like the health oriented Cancer Society , and others that deals with matters of abuse ,poverty, education , joblessness ,corruption, and reform are floundering Brian , while our greedy , parasitic business elites turn a blind eye ,since they naively believe ,it’s not their business to get involve and share the strain ,as they were not elected into political office .
        Care to tell me how you build a nation with that mentality , and how many powerhouse nations across the globe are unfortunately saddled with such unconscionable creatures?

        Listen my friend , constitutional reforms , switching to an executive President, eradication of Westminster system for that of the USA,Canada, or Scandinavians are all fine and dandy. However it can never eliminate crime, curb unemployment, and help produce local visionary caring leaders that can help us along the part of full sustainable development in keeping with a resource laden, and hopefully , democratic country .
        So you care about security in our country ,huh? However , are you prepared to join me , or any other neglected voice in the wilderness to demand an Independent Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 attempted Coup at the hands of pseudo Islamist Baker and his illiterate thugs ,that threatened to destroy our paltry efforts at democracy? I did not think so , for this blog is just another escapist charade that folks like yourself, and the likes of T-Man the fraud ,enjoy dabbling in occasionally. But then ,I stand corrected!

        By the way, I totally agree with your predictions on the chances of red headed Alaskan phony, that misguided Conservatives across the nation are putting faith in along with new flavor of the month Scott Brown ,that fantasizes about his daughters , or hot air Rush Limbaugh the big fat idiot can win the race for the White house from tag team Obama the baller,and his skinny arm Jackie O wannabe wife ,from the Chicago South Remember , Nation Building is never an easy exercise , but tend to become even more challenging if visionary progressives lose faith, and succumb to despair.
        I wish you well.

        1. While the two of you are at this political cross road, allow me to suggest that that is why many countries that have the same social problems and lack of community sense, pride, and patriotism because of senseless in fighting and divisive groupings end up being led by oppressive military style regimes. I do not support that of course, but I do personally believe that if you don’t hear you will feel. If the leaders in charge of the masses are not held accountable and do not hold their constituents responsible for poor actions and decisions, that country is a time bomb preparing to explode.
          In the Political climate of present day TNT, one thing missing from the environment is a leader prepared and willing to die for righteousness, equality, justice, and the well being of a better Trinidad and Tobago. That may seem extreme, but when you think about all of the palms that have been greased over the years who are so heavily invested in the demise of this nation for personal gain, there is a need for a significant event that awakes and unifies the masses.
          It’s a sad and unfortunate business this Nation Building thing is. Whose image will the nation reflect at its core in its principles and core values? The problem is magnified when the nation is a Tropical Paradise virtually unthreatened by natural disaster, extreme elements, and an abundance of natural resources. For those in the States, its like trying to get the students to focus on a lesson when the weather starts to turn warm and summer break is a week away. The masses care about the latest Yankee singer/ rapper/ entertainer.
          The “Americanization” of the Caribbean overall is a bad thing in my opinion. However, between the two systems of governance, I would rather support the Yankee style over the British style. But who says those are the only two options and that we would have to copy either of them word for word?
          Our first and main problem is accountability. I’m not addressing a twenty year old incident that is a part of history now. We have much more pressing business to take care of like the theft of our natural resources masquerading as international business. We must also get a hold on this domestic crime situation. If theses thugs want to live by the sword then we need to behead them. If they make their bed rough, they need to lay in them.
          Most Americans and most English will not settle for less. We adopt all of the garbage from those two nations without adopting that mindset when it comes to good governance. What does that say about the uphill battle that any political party would have fight before executing change that WE can believe in?
          Until the People that call Trinidad and Tobago their home are able to recognize that they have power and purpose, there will always be leaders that do nothing good for the country. The PNM has an impressive video and plan for the nation however, none of that means nothing at all if people can’t feel safe in the street and are always divided. Then again, that may be the true plan of the PNM or any other group that finds itself in power in Trinidad and Tobago.

  7. The caribbean court of appeal has been allowed to “languish”, not because of “foolish tribal concerns”, but because of the political nature of the appointment of its staff.In the divisive political immaturity of T&T,the failure to fully recognize this Institution is justifiable.
    The recent lamentation of a learned judge in T&T regarding the frequency of “tainted and racist” juries adds proof positive that political influence seeps through every institution and fabric of life.If juries are “tainted” as this judge complains, surely judges themselves are influenced by political affiliation, race and preference.
    One wonders how the Caribbean Court of Justice would have ruled on a number of recent cases on which the Privy Council rendered decisions which did not favour the Government?
    Until our Politics matures we still need the Privy Council.Even the Government of T&T runs to England for lawyers everytime it has to prosecute a difficult or high profile case. And this is at a time when UWI keeps pumping out lawyers by the dozen and lawyers can be found in every nook and cranny of T&T.Have we no confidence in the quality of our own?

  8. So Curtis you desire “…in present day TNT, ….a leader prepared and willing to die for righteousness, equality, justice, and the well being of a better Trinidad and Tobago,” is that correct? However , you together with T-Man the apologist and fraud , viewed Awee boy Robbie’s 1990 demands that the security forces ” attack with full force,”as delusional ramblings ,even as Bakr’s henchmen had an Uzi against the back of his head , another up the minni skirt of loudmouth Pam, his Tobago West sidekick, while our then Canadian educated Muslim President,the coup leader’s lawyer Mr.Ramesh Maharajah, our two Opposition leaders Mr. Panic , and Mankind, were conveniently away from Parliament, and or out of the country .
    Sorry , I forgot , pressing accountability issues is your new priority ,and not some “twenty
    year old incident that is a part of history now.”
    Sometimes I feel Curtis , like my one time family dog ,that went around in circles , and unsuccessfully tried to catch it’s tail ,when I try to converse with some of you guys.
    Did you say you went to crime laden Nelson Street boys school, and could not do much on the academic end, as you had to practice daily for 364 days of the year to excel in the junior panorama festivals? That explains it then.
    Good luck as you and others try to ‘have your cake and eat,’ it as well.

    1. “Mr. Han, You come right out of a comic book”- Williams (Enter the Dragon)
      Neal, if you choose to go back and verify my comments, you will see that I never commented on 1990. I was out of the country closer to Springfield Gardens Queens, New York than Port of Spain.
      Given my record and comments about political post, you may find it interesting that I attended Catholic School abroad during that time. That is enough about me. I have to prepare a defense for your incoming assault questioning my patriotism no doubt.

  9. Neither were you around during the European colonial periods, yet it never stop you from commenting profusely about atrocities that took place on black folks under the hands of savage whites.
    Likewise, I or you did not live through the American Revolution, Wars of the Roses, WW11, The French / Algerian battles ,Haitian Liberation, Indian / Pakistan partition, or Lts. Raffique Shah/ Rex Lassale / Brig Skerritte’s 1970 military child’s play maneuvers , but so what?
    Perhaps it is time a few of us on this site quit monkeying around , with fence straggling ,timid commentaries as if we are beholden somehow to either of these tribal leaders and their grateful disciples,or auditioning for some futuristic pitiful job, and instead – in the absence of any serious objective journalism -be that true , authentic voice of reason that is needed to help enlighten the suffering masses, that was never ably served by the tide of neo-colonials puppets, ever since Massa departed.
    You of all people should know that ‘History Matters’ Curtis. At this stage of the game ,I have absolutely no need for your biography , or even an answer as to the state of your patriotism.
    If I am unable to ‘separate the goat from the sheep,’ in terms of authenticity , after two seconds traversing this information highway, then I would have been better served taking the vast amount of money I spent in the acquisition of an education way beyond primary school, and instead should have given it away to the numerous drug addicts, and homeless bums we know that are still circulating around the POS hospital, The St. Anns Mental Asylum , and roaming within the borders of the illustrious Eric William’s ‘University of Woodford Square- 200 meters from our Parliament.
    Lets leave the unmentionable ,tribalistic ,rambunctious, and selectively outraged phonies alone Curtis , and elevate the discourse in the hope that eventually our people in the Global South, can some day enjoy similar standards, as those in the much adored North that a few of us were able to adopt , and take for granted , while enjoying life within our newfound enclaves.
    Less time for gloating , and more energies to building bridges to displace the social and economic chasms. While we are at it , let’s also keep them honest , my friend

  10. I wasn’t gloating. The European Colonial period still has an effect on various aspects of my life today. The attempted takeover does not. What futuristic pitiful job were you referring to? I state my opinion or make a provocative statement about some subjects, but I am not auditioning for anything. I believe in the future of Trinidad and Tobago. I believe that the country has an enormous amount of untapped and underdeveloped potential. I am worried that the leadership from either of the political parties are interested in quickly improving the quality of life for the people and are lacking the vision to do so.

    1. By the way, when I made a statement about death and willingness to die for change, it doesn’t necessarily mean physical. There is a such thing as political death as in a dead political career because of controversial political decisions that eventually killed ones career whether or not the decision was a good decision for the people or not.
      The interpretation of that was not to be taken literally. I am not calling for a forceful removal of any leader by any other method than a vote. The political process must work in order for any nation to remain stable, prosperous, and successful.

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