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ILP sues over Runoff Bill

By SEAN DOUGLAS Saturday, August 30 2014

Mere hours after a split Senate passed an amended Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 — which now reverts to the Lower House to mull the changes — the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) yesterday filed a constitutional motion in the High Court against the measure.

This was disclosed yesterday by Independent Liberal Party ((ILP) deputy political leader, Rekha Ramjit, during a news briefing at the party’s headquarters at Edward Street, Port-of-Spain, attended by party officials including ILP political leader, Lyndira Oudit, and chairman, Jack Warner.

The legal action, according to Ramjit, argues that the bill breaches constitutional rights, as detailed in the affidavits also filed yesterday by two citizens, Sherwin Mitchell and Dane Francois, both ILP members. Mitchell has complained the Bill breaches his constitutional right as an elector, while Francois has alleged the Bill violates his rights as a potential general election candidate.

Although the Bill has not yet reached the stage of presidential assent and so is not yet law, Ramjit said it is the ILP’s position that an aggrieved individual can file a constitutional motion under Section 14(1) of the Constitution which recognises not only instances where rights are violated, but also cases where there is a threat that rights may be abrogated.

“It will soon be served on the Attorney General,” Ramjit said. “It has been docketed to Justice Frank Seepersad, a fearless judge.”

She said Section 4 of the Constitution states rights including freedom of political expression, while Section 5 says no law must infringe those rights, even as section 13 says any infringement can only be done with a three-fifths special majority. Even as section 73 of the Constitution says you elect a Lower House by a first-past-the-post system, Ramjit said the bill amends this to also add a runoff.

She warned however that this new system could create an inequality of treatment in violation of constitutional norms. A third party who wins over 25 percent of votes-cast and/or is within five percent of the second placed rival, may proceed to the second runoff, but not so for a candidate winning under 25 percent at the first ballot. Ramjit contends that all this creates an “inequality of treatment” in breach of the Constitution.

Ramjit said rights can be abrogated but only if you have reasonable justification and the support of a three-fifths parliamentary majority, “not any simple majority as espoused by the Government.”

Oudit said if the People’s National Movement and, or, former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj also seek to bring such a motion, the judge would have to decide if to hear all motions together.

Oudit, when asked if they might ask President Anthony Carmona to refuse to assent and proclaim the bill, responded the party would consider writing to ask the President to familiarise himself with the issues around the bill.

Warner said letters are currently being drafted to take the issue to Caricom and the Commonwealth, even as Oudit, having done an interview with the Miami Herald, noted that the issue had gone international.

Oudit said all the public had asked the Government for was some more time to mull the Bill. She said the Government was to be blamed for failing to adequately inform the general population about the bill. Responding to whether the bill represented a United National Congress grab for ILP votes as once suggested by Warner, Oudit said the Bill was designed for the small parties and marginal seats. “What makes a difference in the marginal constituencies is the presence or absence of minority parties,” she said.

Warner quipped, “This is the first election you have to go to listen to the results with a calculator. You can’t have fete or champagne.”

Warner alleged that in last year’s St Joseph bye-election, he had been approached by two Government officials who asked him to withdraw the candidacy of the ILP’s Om Lalla, in exchange for which Lalla would be made Justice Minister and a Senator. “I declined,” related Warner, saying that attempt to accrue the ILP vote-share was the genesis of the current bill to amend the electoral process.

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