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A Trojan horse

By Sasha Harrinanan Wednesday, August 27 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Helen speaks: Independent Senator Helen Drayton addresses her colleagues during debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill in the Senate yesterday. A...
Helen speaks: Independent Senator Helen Drayton addresses her colleagues during debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill in the Senate yesterday. A...

A “Trojan Horse” was the term used by Independent Senator, Helen Drayton, to describe the runoff proposal in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014.

The first of the Independent bench to speak during yesterday afternoon’s debate on the controversial Bill, Drayton argued that a runoff would be most beneficial to a minority party that is a member of a coalition, since the second round of voting “eliminates vote-splitting.”

“In our context, the runoff is not designed to deepen democracy but will deepen the principle of winner-takes-all and I think the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) knew this.”

“Power to the people sounds laudable,” Drayton added. “It is populist but there can be no guarantee that the majority of the electorate would have expressed their will in a second round.

“It could be a minority minus a minority, and in our culture, with the increasing number of voices saying ‘none of the above,’...the second round could be, and is likely to be, a minority vote.”

Not mincing her words, the most senior Independent Senator earned desk-thumping support from the Opposition when she declared that runoffs are a “discriminatory process” which deprives citizens of the right of a second vote, “simply because they’d made up their minds they do not want any of the two parties contesting the second round.”

Chairman of the CRC, Prakash Ramadhar, who also holds the posts of political leader of the Congress of the People (COP), Tunapuna MP and Legal Affairs Minister, came in for serious criticism from Drayton yesterday.

Noting that Ramadhar had previously said the runoff proposal was a poor substitute for proportional representation, Drayton revealed that statement “irked” her because the CRC had spent two years and public funds to fulfill its mandate.

After consulting scores of persons across the country about their views and desires regarding constitutional reform, “then you turn round and say we must now accept a poor substitute,” she said.

Drayton then asked why the leadership of any political party would want to subject the electorate to an inferior system when their aspiration is for a progressive one.

“No wise leader settles for poor substitutes to systems necessary for maintaining the integrity and good functioning of pillars of our democracy, unless it serves their narrow interests,” Drayton declared.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her coalition People’s Partnership Government were then urged by the Independent Senator “not to ignore the goodwill and integrity of the people.”

She reminded them that even if the Bill became law this year, “you can’t recall anybody until 2018...So I believe we have much time to re-evaluate this runoff.”

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