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PM: Runoff not the issue

Thursday, August 14 2014

PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday maintained that amending the Constitution to facilitate runoff elections in this country is not the objective of the controversial Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, which is due to be debated in the Senate on August 26.

Speaking at the opening of the new extension of the Diego Martin Highway, which was started under the former People’s National Movement (PNM) administration, Persad-Bissessar said,

“I hear a lot about runoff but I don’t know if we are giving to the fact that the runoff is not the focus.”

While the PNM, Independent Liberal Party (ILP), Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) and other groups are insisting the true intent of the bill is to help the ruling People’s Partnership (PP) coalition win the next general election, Persad-Bissessar insisted the focus of the legislation “is that an opportunity is being given to ensure that when you vote , the Member of Parliament that you have elected is elected by the majority of the votes, and not by a minority.”

“That is the purpose of the runoff,” she declared.

Persad-Bissessar reiterated that “where a candidate does not get 50 percent from the vote, only in those instances will there be a second ballot between the highest scoring candidates to select them.” The bill was passed on Tuesday with three amendments. Those were not impeding the President’s ability to appoint a prime minister should runoffs take place; banning multiple recalls to avoid mischief and harassment, and imposing a three day limit on the Elections and Boundaries Commission’s verification of the two initial applicants for a recall petition.

Declaring that Government will forge ahead with other proposals for constitutional reform, Persad-Bissessar reminded her audience that on Tuesday, Government passed a motion to establish a joint select committee (JSC) to propose a legislative framework to cover election campaign financing, and to report to Parliament within six months. Campaign finance reform is one of ten constitution reform proposals which Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said the PNM will support.

She reiterated that the right of recall of MPs and term limits for prime ministers are other important proposals contained in the bill. On the former, Persad-Bissessar said, “We must be assured that the person representing you actually represents the will of the majority of voters in an electorate.”

On the latter, she stated, “You must be confident that the person you elect head of government is not so ready to power that they cannot let go after sufficient time and service have passed.” Persad-Bissessar added this bill shows that Government is taking steps to “ change the architectural governance so to empower people with greater strength in how power and authority vested in their elected governance and officials are yours.”

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