By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – The coalition People’s Partnership government, gearing up for a general election by mid- 2015, has introduced legislation providing for 10-year term limit for the head of government as well as allowing voters to recall their elected representatives.
In addition, Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar told Parliament, on Monday, that the Constitution Amendment Bill will also make provisions for a run-off in a general election, where the leading candidate fails to secure more than 50 per cent of the votes on the first count.
The main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) has, in the past, publicly disagreed with the measures announced in Parliament and its leader, Dr. Keith Rowley, was due to hold a news conference following the adjournment of the Parliament later on Monday.
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said the new measures were contained in the 2010 manifesto of the four-party coalition government, headed by the United National Congress (UNC) and that the constitutional amendment would provide “more power to the people”.
She told legislators that the new measures were as a result of the recommendations of a Constitutional Reform Committee headed by Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar and leader of the Congress of the People (COP) party, the second biggest member in the coalition government.
“The Constitutional Amendment Bill 2014, Mr. Speaker is to be introduced today which will propose a term limit for office of the prime minister, a recall provision and a run-off poll in elections for the House of Representatives” she said, adding that these measures “require only a simple majority.
“Further, I will in the near future lay a bill to fix the dates of Parliament so that the date for general elections will be known. Such a bill would require a special majority.”
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said regarding the term limits for prime ministers in the present proposal “there is a simple amendment which prevents the President from offering the prime ministership to anyone who has served for two full (consecutive) terms….
“We are of the view Mr. Speaker that personalised leadership which has strengthened itself by a manipulation of control of party politics is anthemia to the principles of democracy…
“We have had our fair share of leaders who continue to rule and refuse to give way even though it is obvious that the time for change has come. This does suffocate new talent and stifle a democracy.”
She said the two term limit is a very important feature “to give power to the people and for a powerful democracy,” quoting a Trinidad and Tobago political scientist, who once noted that while United States presidents leave office with dignity and grace at the end of their two-term, “Westminster prime ministers often cling to power to the very end and are often forced out of office in indignity and disgrace…”
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar, whose administration introduced proportional representations within the Local Government elections last year, said at least 91 countries worldwide had term limits for their heads of governments.
“We are seeking to become country number 92 with term limits for the prime minister. There are many benefits for this Mr. Speaker and in the debate we will spend more time,” she said, adding that the right of recall would create the ability to recall individual members of the House “after the expiration of three years from the date of an election.
“The right of recall is a term used to describe a process whereby the electorate can petition to trigger (a) vote…on the suitability of an existing elected representative to continue in office,”’ she said, noting that this forms part of the system of governments including the United States, Switzerland the Philippines and Venezuela.
“There are several benefits for the recall. This again is to give us a stronger democracy, a stronger connection between elected representatives and the electorate and of course greater representation at the parliamentary level.”
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said that the right of recall does not yet exist within the Westminster system and “I say this is a very bold step.
“It will well be that Trinidad and Tobago may well lead the way forward…for we will be the first Westminster style democracy that will be adopting the right of recall,” she said, recalling that British government is contemplating such a move.
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar told legislators that the run-off ballot provides for where “someone in an election receives less than 50 per cent of the votes cast, there will be a second poll, a run-off election where the first and second highest candidates would have a second poll.
“This is very important again for participatory democracy and representative democracy. It makes way for the representation by the majority. The right of the minority voices will be protected but at the same time this will give effect to the will of the majority that a member of parliament will be elected by the majority of the votes case”.