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Rowley hits ‘run-off’ Bill

By JULIEN NEAVES Friday, August 8 2014

OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley has described the provision for a run-off election in the new Constitution (Amendment) Bill as a “Trojan Horse” and “poison”, which is meant to be self-serving and will cause political instability and allow an administration that is defeated at the polls, to remain in office.

“This Government is laying a foundation that when it is defeated (in next year’s general elections) there will not be a quiet and peaceful handing over of power,” Rowley said.

Rowley made the comments as he spoke yesterday at a media conference at Balisier House, Port-of-Spain responding to the Bill which was laid in the House by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Monday. The bill contains three provisions: a two-term limit for a prime minister, right of recall for MPs and a run-off provision if a candidate does not have 50 percent or more of the vote.

He said the run-off was the real reason for the bill and dismissed the other two provisions as “nonsense events”. On the two-term limit for a Prime Minister Rowley said it was a “solution looking for a problem” and the experience in this country, except for first Prime Minister the late Dr Eric Williams, was there was no prime minister for any extended period.

On the provision for the recall of MPs he said if it becomes law it provides for “infinite elections”, disruption and disturbance but no real prospect of removal as the requirement of two thirds of the people on the voter’s list was difficult for one party to get in the normal election process.

On the run-off he said the first thing the law will do is to prevent the President from appointing a prime minister even though the election results would have shown that the individual has the majority of seats as determined by an election. He noted that during this period the losing, incumbent prime minister will remain, the MPs will be allowed to stay in office despite being voted out and a campaign will continue to attempt to win in seats where the victory had not been over 50 percent.

“Do you have any idea what such a development could mean to the social, political and other stability in Trinidad and Tobago,” he asked rhetorically. Rowley pointed out that after the second election, an election petition can be filed in the Court and the Government can use a “battery of lawyers” to drag out the process as long as possible and remain in office.

“That is what this legislation offers the people of Trinidad and Tobago — the potential for a defeated party to hold onto power while secondary elections are conducted, elections which they can easily and corruptly attempt to influence,” he said.

He said in all of the Government’s million-dollar public consultations, the idea of the run-off did not come from the electorate but from the “political directorate” of the UNC. He noted this run-off system exists nowhere in the Commonwealth and while it exists in the United States they have a different governmental structure and society. “We have rejected it and we will resist it,” he vowed. The bill is set for debate in the Lower House on Monday.

He said that while the Government believes they only require a simple majority, the Opposition believes a special majority is required.

Following the media conference PNM Chairman Franklyn Khan said if the bill is passed, which is likely, the party plans to take legal action challenging it.

(See Page 11A)

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