By Capil Bissoon
“Whatever the merits or otherwise of this new legislation, (Kamla) Persad-Bissessar can count this as a political victory… (which) lies in having accomplished what former prime ministers have paid mere lip service to -- concrete constitutional reform.”
Capil Bissoon is a Trini-Canadian looking on at Trinidad and Tobago politics from a distance
The Express acknowledged that in an editorial on Saturday, commenting on the passage of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 in the Senate. “However, the run-off and other amendments play in the future” the paper stated, the efforts the Prime Minister and the People’s Partnership have created a more “politically committed citizenry” and that “might prove to be the PM’s signal achievement”.
The government went into this knowing that it would be contentious, knowing that tinkering with the Constitution can have fatal political consequences. But PM Persad-Bissessar is also a leader unlike her predecessors. She has always put people first and that is why she ventured into this potential political minefield, even at the risk of “political suicide.”
In the end she achieved what no prime minister has ever attempted since the Republican Constitution took effect in 1976.
She also acknowledged the importance of something as fundamental as tinkering with the Constitution would need serious personal contemplation. As the head of a mixed coalition of interests she gave every member of her government a conscience vote -- another commitment that showed she was a leader who was prepared to link her political career to her belief that the people deserve to have the power over the politician.
In effect, Mrs Persad-Bissessar was prepared to give away her own powers because of her commitment that in a democracy people have the right to control their destiny and that leaders are accountable to the people.
It’s not something we see every day in politics. It was the PM who insisted on writing the two-term limit to include her current term, which means that if she wins again she can only serve one more term. Her actions are a departure from the political culture of Trinidad and Tobago where power to politicians had always taken precedence over power to the people.
“Serve the people” has been her genuine mantra and the evidence is all around T&T where development is taking place at an unprecedented pace in every community across the country, without any regard for which party’s supporters benefit.
A hospital is for all the people, schools benefit every child and there was never a thought about selective distribution of computers for every child in high school.
Now as she prepares to enter the political battlefield for 2015, there is a clear line drawn between her and her political allies and supporters, and the opposition People’s National Movement (PNM).
Opposition Senate Leader Camille Robinson-Regis served notice that when the PNM wins the next general election the party would immediately repeal the Constitution (Amendment) Bill.
That position has provided a clear counterpoint for the debate on Constitution reform to continue in the public domain and to carry over into the imminent election campaign.
It’s a debate over a PM who promised to bring reform for the benefit of the people and who successfully championed a bill to give power to the people.
On the other hand, the PNM opposed the bill and voted against it is now saying that it would toss it out and go back to a position of taking back power that the bill handed to the people and concentrating it once again in the hands of the politicians.
The PNM, through its PRO Senator Faris Al-Rawi, has also served notice that it will appeal to “the hearts and the minds of good, sensible people” as it markets its ideas about the bill.
There is a suggestion in that idea that the “good and sensible people” are only those who share the PNM’s point of view.
Mrs Robinson-Regis alluded to the PNM’s perceived superiority when she said that it is okay for the PNM to have a run-off vote to elect its leader because the party is a homogenous institution unlike the population of T&T.
The PNM is not known for its tolerance for free thinking. However, in a democracy it is imperative that all parties acknowledge that whatever their private views, they must respect those of the people. The greatest threat to democracy is the absence of criticism.
Originally published by the Trinidad Express, Republished with permission