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By Andre Bagoo Saturday, February 16 2013

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AT EXACTLY 2.08 pm, Justice Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona was yesterday declared this country’s next President at the eighth meeting of the Electoral College, a meeting which saw many firsts.

From the very moment the College was convened at 2 pm, it was clear that things were going to be done differently under its chairman, Speaker Wade Mark. A recording of the National Anthem – a soulful rendition sung as a duet – was played after opening prayers. It was the first time that the anthem had been played at a sitting of the Electoral College and was, perhaps, a new procedure to welcome a new era coinciding with the tenure of a new President.

“I now call to order this Electoral College,” chairman Mark said, presiding over the chamber at Level 3, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain. “Honourable members of the Electoral College, in accordance with Section 20 (A) of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, I have convened this meeting of the Electoral College for the purpose of holding an election of President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.”

The Speaker noted the absence of the Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith SC – currently Acting as President. Also absent from the chamber was San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning, the only MP to miss the day’s proceedings.

Mark noted the date of the meeting of the Electoral College was published in the Gazette on Thursday January 17, 2013, pursuant to Section 26 (2) of the Constitution.

“In accordance with Section 30 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona was nominated for election as President by a nomination paper signed by him and 12 members of the House of Representatives,” Mark said.

Mark noted 12 Government MPs had signed the nomination paper, including Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. He also noted that Carmona signed the paper.

“Honourable members, Mr Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona was the only person nominated for the office of President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago,” Mark then said. “Therefore, in accordance with Section 31 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and Regulation 9(1)(b) of the Electoral College Regulations of 1976, I hereby declare Mr Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona elected President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.”

It took just eight minutes, then, for the Electoral College to declare a new President.

After Mark made the declaration, there was tremendous desk-thumping from both sides of the chamber in which Government, Opposition MPs, as well as the Independent Senators, had assembled. With the exception of the Opposition Whip Marlene McDonald and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, all of the PNM MPs present thumped their desks at this point. Mc Donald looked at her colleagues, wearing a look of concern. The thumping lasted a quarter of a minute.

“At this time I would invite the honourable Prime Minister to make remarks on the occasion of the election of election of Mr Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona,” Mark said. “Madam Prime Minister, you have my leave.”

The Prime Minister said Carmona, the President-elect, brings, “unique and special qualities to be our next Head of State.”

“He has been nurtured by loving parents and a family who instilled in him demonstrated qualities of the highest human and moral character; of faith, fairness, humility and love,” Persad-Bissessar said. “He is guided by the deep spiritual convictions of his faith. He comes out of the bosom of and remains rooted in Trinidad and Tobago, equipped with a distinguished academic and legal career spanning over three decades. Up to last week, he has been sitting as a highly respected member of the Bench, serving in the High Court in San Fernando.”

She continued, “Today in this hallowed Chamber, we concluded another important formal step in the sequence of events that would on March 18th, culminate in former Justice Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona being sworn in as the fifth President of Trinidad and Tobago.”

The Prime Minister described Carmona as “a man of the people”, “on equal with the highest echelons of our Land” but who still “rubbed shoulders with the ordinary folk on his regular journeys on the water taxi to and from San Fernando or joining hands with fellow parishioners at services at Assumption Church, Maraval, and at the La Divina Pastora Church in Siparia on Sunday mornings.” She alluded to the fact that Carmona’s 60th birthday is on March 7.

“On behalf of the Government and People of Trinidad and Tobago, I extend congratulations to our President-elect Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona and also offer to him our very best wishes on his 60th birthday, which he will celebrate in a few days,” she said.

Of the role of President, Persad-Bissessar said, “As I said in my earlier statement to the Nation, the Presidency is no mere ceremonial position. Our President is the vital and critical collective voice and conscience of our people. His role in our Republic is far reaching, decisive, constant and always vigilant. His impact will be experienced in all spheres of our national life and by citizens throughout our twin island Republic.”

The Speaker gave his own speech of congratulation.

“Today marks a significant milestone in our nation’s history as we begin the transition from one Head of State to another,” he said. “I, too, join in wishing the President-elect, Mr Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona my warmest congratulations in ascending to the highest office in our beloved Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The fact that this election was uncontested confirms the unanimous approval of Mr Carmona by you, the Members of this Electoral College and by extension the vast majority of the national community.”

Mark continued, “This proud moment is evidence that our democracy is indeed strong and that as a people and a nation, we do have a lot to be thankful for. May God continue to richly bless the President-elect with wisdom and knowledge.”Like Persad-Bissesar, Mark paid tribute to outgoing President George Maxwell-Richards, 82, (currently on vacation), who served as Head of State for ten years.

Mark noted that Richards had been very involved in several charitable activities throughout his tenure.

“The required instrument shall today be signed and sealed by me the Speaker,” Mark then declared of Carmona’s appointment, before Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal moved that the Electoral College be adjourned. The Electoral College was adjourned sine dei, or without a specific date of resumption.

Among the firsts of this meeting of the Electoral College was a sign of the stamp made on the regulations of the College through the Speaker’s own authority to do so under Regulation 23 of the Electoral College Rules. Not only was the playing of the National Anthem unprecedented, it was also the first time that a CV about the nominee, the nomination paper and a specimen instrument of appointment had been distributed to the members of the Electoral College. But there will be more firsts in the near future, starting on Monday.

The Speaker will present a report of the Electoral College – termed by some Parliament officials as the instrument of appointment – to Carmona in person at a ceremony at a reception lounge of the Parliament. This breaks with the practice in previous years, where the Speaker would simply communicate the result of the meeting to the President elect.

Before the start of yesterday’s proceedings, the mood inside of the chamber was truly collegiate. MPs and Senators, not normally together at once, mixed and mingled. The large, plush leather seats on which all sit so comfortably during sittings were removed.

Smaller office chairs replaced them, allowing more people to fit within the confines of the same rows.

San Fernando West MP Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan seemed unable to find a seat at first, as was the case with Senator Embau Moheni.

Even with the seating expansion there was not room for all Government MPs: some ended up on the other side of the chamber, namely, Dr Fuad Khan, Collin Partap, Herbert Volney and Samuel Rodgers. Congress of the People political leader Prakash Ramadhar sat to the immediate left of the Prime Minister, with UNC chairman Jack Warner lower down.

Arts and Multiculturalism Minister Lincoln Douglas wore a white Panama hat with a brown ribbon. Community Development Minister Winston “Gypsy” Peters ferverently placed his right hand on his heart as the anthem played.

Up to late yesterday afternoon, the Clerk of the House, Jacqui Sampson-Meiguel, was still locked in office at the International Waterfront Centre overseeing the process of compiling the official report of the Electoral College, prepared under Regulation 19 (1) of the College Regulations. The report is to be sent to President-elect Carmona.

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