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Rowley takes ‘vote’ on court action on constitution bill

By Julien Neaves Thursday, August 14 2014

OPPOSITION LEADER Dr Keith Rowley on Tuesday night asked People’s National Movement (PNM) supporters to “vote” on whether the party should take legal action against the runoff provision of the Constitution Amendment Bill.

He was speaking at a public meeting held at the corner of Bournes Road and the Western Main Road, St James. Rowley said the Government ignored the statement by the Constitution Reform Commission to retain the first past the post system and asked the packed crowd whether the PNM should ask the court to examine the matter if only for the record.

“Wake up the judge,” one man shouted. He took a Parliamentary-style vote and received all “ayes.” Rowley said he could not say when the matter would go to court or whether there would be a ruling but the “real matter” was in the hands of the citizens of this country who will be “judge, jury and executioner.” The bill, which includes a controversial provision for a runoff second ballot if a candidate fails to get more than 50 percent of the vote, was passed in Parliament in the early hours of Tuesday morning. At the meeting, Rowley said the bill is the fourth time the Government has tried to interfere with the constitution for political gain.

He said firstly to distract from the bacchanal that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s sister, Vidwatie Newton, was her personal assistant and “nurse” at taxpayers’ expense, the Government brought legislation to remove the Privy Council as the final court of appeal for criminal matters. Secondly, during the Tobago House of Assembly elections last year, the Government attempted to bring internal self-government legislation for Tobago and thirdly for the Local Government election the Government tried to “foist” proportional representation upon the country.

Rowley said the Constitution Amendment Bill, however, is “the most dangerous one.” He said that because by the election polls the Government realised that they do not have “a snowball chance in hell” of winning the next elections they were attempting to interfere with the electoral arrangements.

He said, with the ethnic component of this country, any attempt to steal an election would be “walking down a dangerous road” and the PNM would not stand idly by and allow the Government to “thief election.” Rowley also criticised the Chamber of Industry and Commerce for their “nonsense” statement that the bill was “a step in the right direction.”

Temporary senator, Stuart Young, was also on the platform and said that Government has failed miserably on the legal test for consultation.

“They told you all I don’t care, take it or leave it,” he said.

He said, when Commissioner Merle Hodge came out and told the truth that runoff was never originally included and we “catch them with their pants down,” they lied and claimed that it was part of an addendum. Stuart pointed out that the Attorney General had the “gumption” to say that Hodge and the commissioners were well paid.

“What does the fact that the commissioners were paid have to do with anything? Let me tell you what is the message, what is the clear signal being sent by that gentleman. I go pay you from the Treasury, you go do what I want and shut your mouth. Not us. No upright citizen of Trinidad and Tobago will ever be bought and you cannot buy us,” he said.

He added: “Thank God for Dr Merle Hodge.”

Opposition Chief Whip, Marlene McDonald, noted that the Government has frequently consulted the Opposition on other legislation but something as critical as the amendment to the constitution was not even discussed with them. She said the aim of the bill is to the steal the next general election by runoff polls or to destabilise the PNM when it gets in office, and the Government will be using democratic tools for political reasons.

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