Little consensus on past presidential elections
By Andre Bagoo Sunday, February 3 2013
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George Maxwell Richards...
FOR YEARS, the PNM has had its way when it comes to the process of appointing someone to the post of President — either installing its own candidate when in Government or, at the very least, putting a nominee on the ballot when in Opposition.
In almost all of the recent presidential appointments, this has been done without consensus.
However, last week, on the eve of the deadline for the submission of nominations for the post on Tuesday, there were calls from the PNM for consensus.
Those calls emerged after it became clear that the PNM, for the first time in decades, would not be able to nominate a candidate of its own because it does not appear to be able to amass the 12 signatures needed under the Constitution to put a candidate on the ballot.
While the PNM has exactly 12 seats in Parliament, the party’s San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning, who has been on leave of absence from the Parliament for more than a year due to ill-health, has reportedly indicated unwillingness to get involved in the process, which would require an Opposition Whip.
The Government is poised to tomorrow formally announce its candidate and a wide range of candidates have surfaced as front-runners, though most recently a jurist has been said to be out front.
Though today there are PNM calls for consensus on who the Government puts forward as its own nominee, there was apparently little need for consensus in the past.
In March 2003, when the current President, George Maxwell Richards, was put into office by the then PNM government, there was no consensus. The then Opposition UNC had 16 MPs and placed its own candidate on the ballot: former Senate President Ganace Ramdial. They were outvoted by the PNM government.
In March 1997, when the then UNC government put forward ANR Robinson as President, Robinson was opposed. The 17 PNM MPs ensured that they got their own nominee on the ballot: Justice of Appeal, Anthony Lucky. They were outvoted, but the message sent by the PNM was clear: they did not want Robinson and did not agree.
The PNM has always had its say on who serves as Head of State.
The country’s first President, Sir Ellis Clarke, was hand-picked by Dr Eric Williams for the post. In those special years after the Republican Constitution was passed, Clarke was elected unopposed to be President. He served from August 1, 1976, to March 13, 1987.
Eric Williams also hand-picked the country’s first Governor General (precursor to the post of President) in the form of Sir Solomon Hochoy, who served from August 31, 1963 to 1972. (Before becoming President, Sir Ellis succeeded Sir Solomon, serving in the post from February 1973 to August 1, 1976.)
The last time the PNM was unable to nominate anyone to the country’s highest post was 26 years ago, when the NAR dominated the Parliament. The PNM had only three seats and could not nominate a candidate of their own. That was when the NAR first appointed Noor Hassanali, on March 19, 1987.
It was only in the years after the 1990 Muslimeen terror attacks that there appeared to be some sort of consensus. There was a general election in late 1991, and the PNM won. In early 1992, the PNM opted to leave Hassanali in place. He served until 1997.
There have always been reports that Hassanali was willing to serve a third term, but on the strict condition that there be consensus. However, it has been said that because there was no consensus for him to serve yet another term, he did not opt to offer himself to serve once more.
That the government of the day has the power to appoint a President appears clear from the provisions of the Constitution.
The Electoral College that chooses the President is not the same as the House of Representatives, but holding a majority in that chamber and also holding senators in the Senate (which merges with the House to form the College) has always given the government the main say.
Manning’s reported reluctance to get involved in the process — whether due to ill-health or for other reasons — has clearly hampered the PNM’s ability to put forward an alternative candidate on its own steam and forces the party to “piggy-back” on the hope of getting a candidate in via the Government’s MPs through consensus.
That the PNM would now find itself in this position is perhaps not surprising since, in sickness and in health, Manning has been a renegade factor: a man apart on the PNM benches.
Thus far in the Tenth Parliament, Manning has reportedly missed most PNM parliamentary caucus meetings and, on some occasions, even broken ranks with the Opposition line.
Most recently, Manning, in an implicit criticism of PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley, criticised the Opposition’s decision to vote in support of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act which contained the controversial Section 34. Manning issued a press release stating had he been in the chamber at the time (he did not say why he was absent when all the other PNM MPs were present) he would not have supported the legislation like they did.
The PNM, in seeking to move beyond its inability to field a candidate on its own, has called for consensus and has also criticised the Government for announcing nominations just before Carnival. However, under the Constitution, the timing of the nomination process is controlled entirely by the expiration of the current term of the sitting President (due to end in March).
The Constitution stipulates the election is to occur no more than two months before the expiration of the term and no less than a month before.
Ironically, the calling of the Tobago House of Assembly election by the PNM’s own Tobago Council for January 21, effectively played a role in the timing of the election process, given the need for time for a Tobago campaign after the Christmas period.
After the nomination is announced tomorrow, the Electoral College will meet on February 15.