PORT-OF-SPAIN: The Senate has approved the coalition People’s Partnership government’s proposal to amend the constitution, paving the way for how future parliamentarians are elected.
The Senate followed the Lower House last Thursday and approved the Constitution Amendment Bill by an 18-12 margin that provides for a two-term prime minister, the right to recall legislators and the need for an elected candidate to obtain 50 per cent of the votes in a general election or face a run-off.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had to garner the support of three of the nine independent legislators to ensure approval, after the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) stood its ground, insisting that the bill needed a special majority and more public consultation on the matter.
She said this is the “first time a government has moved from promises to a concerted effort” towards constitutional reform, saying that the promise to change the constitution had been outlined in the manifesto of the coalition government ahead of the 2010 general election.
She also hinted that her coalition administration, which faces a general election next year, would bring legislation for a fixed date for general elections in the twin island-republic.
Prior to the Senate approval, some independent legislators, such as Anthony Vieira, called on the government to withdraw the Constitution Amendment Bill.
Vieira said the provision for the recall of non-performing legislators troubled him and that no grounds were needed for a recall application to be made to the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).
“Once the numbers are there, the petition for recall must be initiated and to my mind such a provision may be open to abuse,” he said. “One has to question whether on balance the recall provisions will really make MPs accountable to their constituencies or whether we will be in effect emasculating them.”
In approving the legislation, the Senate accepted several amendments, including one moved by Independent Senator David Small, who later voted with the government in passing the bill, to raise the threshold from 10 to 20 per cent for a recall application to be approved by the Elections and Boundaries Commission.
Another Independent Senator, Dr. Dhansayar Mahabir, who during his contribution had signaled his intention to support the government once certain amendments were made, got the nod to change the original plan for the run-off that would have only included the two top finishers.
Dr. Mahabir successfully argued that there was need for a third candidate where that person would have secured 25 per cent of the vote or where the third candidate obtains vote amounting to five per cent less than the second runner-up.
The Senate conceded that the new amendment would result in the country’s electoral system being a hybrid one that mixes the majority system, which the run off system was originally meant to achieve, with a plural system.