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Rowley: Don’t be fooled by PM’s ‘sweet talk’

By JULIEN NEAVES Tuesday, August 12 2014

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Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley addresses Parliament during yesterday's debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. ...
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley addresses Parliament during yesterday's debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. ...

OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley cautioned citizens not to be taken in by the “sweet talk” of the Prime Minister and the Government’s advertisements that the run-off election provision in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill would “deepen democracy” but warned that it was intended to benefit the United National Congress (UNC) by removing the effect of third parties.

He recalled that back in September 2013, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar pointed out that third parties always help the PNM (People’s National Movement), as in the time of the Organisation for National Reconstruction, with Team Unity and when the Congress of the People (COP) and UNC fought separately “and has the dangerous potential for doing so now.”

He was contributing to debate yesterday on the bill in the Lower House at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain. He said because the sitting was being held during the regular vacation period, a number of Opposition members were at airports attempting to get flights so they could be part of the debate.

The bill has three main provisions: runoff election if no candidate wins 50 percent or more of the vote; two-term limit for prime ministers; and right of recall for MPs.

Rowley reiterated that the runoff was the true reason for the legislation and noted the Prime Minister’s primary concern is that “in a three-way fight the PNM could win but when there’s a one on one the Prime Minister believes that her team can win. So these amendments are meant to enforce, to create an environment, not legislation for the population (but) is legislation for the UNC.”

On the Prime Minister’s statements that the PNM had similar procedures in its own internal system, Rowley responded that whenever the Government has to respond to something it says “the PNM did it in Balisier (House).” He noted they demonstrated that the PNM can speak on authority in these matters and added that the party has taken into account the downside of these issues.

“And if what the Government is telling us is that what is good for the PNM mirrored in running a political party is good for the country mirrored in running their country, then that is what she says,” he said.

He noted that in Section 35 of the Constitution Reform document it is stated that there will need to be political consensus on new constitutional formula before drafting can proceed.

“But we come to the Parliament on Monday, get bills in front of us, being rammed down our throat, come back here in a week’s time, in the vacation time, and we’re going to debate it and all the Government loudmouths are out there saying we going to pass it. Totally disregarding the commitment by the Government that there will be political consensus,” he said.

He noted that they did not even have political consensus within the People’s Partnership as the COP is saying “we are not with them.”

“Well if the Leader of the COP, our friend from St Augustine (Prakash Ramadhar), is the turkey who is prepared to vote for Thanksgiving, the PNM is not voting for that,” he quipped.

He questioned if it was right that a simple majority of 15 members should be used to determine the country’s electoral system.

“Does that sound reasonable to you Mr Speaker?” he asked rhetorically.

He noted that the Prime Minister, in leading off the debate, said that it was normal following elections that there would be some days before the new government is installed and pointed to the 18-18 tie of 2001 and the 17-17 tie of 1995. Rowley pointed out, however, that after those elections the election process was over, but the new provision allows for campaigning to continue up to another date and another election. He said this created an environment “for 14 days of splurge, bribery and chaos to try and change the result” and the Government was “boldface” enough to come to Parliament “and ask us” to vote for that. He noted that for the Tobago House of Assembly elections last year, Government spent $103 million; there were 117 contracts for the Chaguanas West bye-election; and for the St Joseph bye-election they provided candidate Ian Alleyne with 25 Government-funded contracts.

He said the Government and Prime Minister accused the Opposition of “fear mongering” but “we have good reason to be afraid of you.”

Rowley also said there was an “unseemly war” being engaged with members of their own Constitution Reform Commission and the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan was denigrating and attacking people. Commission member Merle Hodge has publicly stated that the run-off provision was not originally in the Partnership manifesto, main consultations or the final report and Ramlogan responded that she was “handsomely paid” and her position was due to the defeat of the Winston Dookeran faction by the Ramadhar faction in the COP internal election.

Rowley also said he took “umbrage” at Ramlogan’s “indecent” engagement of Martin Daly SC, a “distinguished legal luminary,” and criticised the AG’s statements that if Daly wanted to speak on the legislation he should “get a seat in Parliament.”

“The minister is out of place,” Rowley said.

He questioned how the provision could be “power for the people” when citizens are resisting this. In response to Persad- Bissessar’s earlier statement that general elections will only be called when they are due, Rowley challenged the PM to “call election now and ask the people what they want.”

He said he had been to many funerals and in the Catholic Church there is a part where they sing “as we go to our grave, we make our song, Halleluah, Halleluah. This is this Government’s Halleluah.”

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