As the president general of the All Trinidad General Workers’ Trade Union, I wish to express my preliminary point of view regarding the contents of the Constitutional Amendment Bill.
This point of view is not cast in stone, but may be altered or even changed depending on the arguments for and against, if convincing enough, expressed by the independent senators in the senatorial debate to be held on 26th August, 2014.
Though questions may arise as to the process used to bring this Bill to Parliament, an initial analysis of the contents of this Bill, together with research on the system proposed, seems to indicate that there is no substantive provision in this Bill that makes it worse than the “first past the post system” or violates or denies a citizen his democratic rights under the constitution to exercise his right to vote or to support a political party of his choice.
In the absence of any empirical evidence to show that this Bill undermines any of our constitutional rights to universal adult suffrage and/or any of the elements of the rights enshrined in Part 1 (4) of the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, then the opposition to the contents of this Bill seem to be based on mere speculation and assumption on what may or may not happen and wild and unsubstantiated allusions to the race bogey.
I am yet to be convinced that this proposed system will lead to a disturbance of our electoral peace and tranquility or increase substantially, voting along racial lines anymore than we have experienced in this nation since the 1960s.
It must be noted that no constitution should ever be unchangeable, since the historical dynamics of the past must mesh with current and contemporary scenarios to ensure that all citizens are afforded the opportunity to fair play, equality and justice before the institutions that govern the society. It must be that a constitution is evolutionary as society itself evolves.
It cannot be that we are willing to accept that a minority vote can dictate to the will of the majority, but we are fearful of a system that will allow an individual entering the Lower House of Parliament to be elected by the majority of the votes cast. This is simply not logical.
In lieu of the opposition ever supporting any form of proportional representation, in my view and until shown otherwise, this bill is a step in the right direction toward ensuring that at least in the realm of electoral politics, the view of the majority of those taking part, may hold sway over the specific interest of a minority.
If the first past the post system is not working in the best of the country, as is alleged by some and as evidenced by the attempt by the Patrick Manning regime to also introduce constitutional change, and people are vehemently opposed to the run-off system, then perhaps the time has come for civil society organisations and other interest groups to demand that the PNM, UNC and other political interest groups implement some type of proportional representation to ensure that he who achieves the majority of votes wins and that all interest are served.
That may be a lot better than opposing for opposing sake and finding any avenue to say that your rights are being violated, to continue to do this is disingenuous to the future of our nation.
I am of the view that any political party entering into elections should do so as an alternative to the incumbent and with the desire to win in order to do better. It is up to the individual political parties to capture the imagination of the public, become a major force and in so doing achieve the necessary votes to win an election whether through a first-past-the-post system or any other system. It is quite strange in my view and incomprehensible that a political party will go into election with a desire to lose.
For example, if the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union were to form a political party to ensure the interest of the ex-Caroni workers and their families were being attended to and also to assist those who feel they have been unfairly done by, especially by the Partnership government and the PNM. Then in the constituencies this party should choose to contest, we will be going all out to be an alternative and to win, not lose, or be of nuisance value.
In any event, until such time as the views of the independent senators are expressed and I am convinced otherwise it is my view that most of the opposition levied against the content of this bill is simply opposing for opposing sake. The jury is, however, out on the process used and whether a simple majority is all that was needed; this can only be tested in a court of law.
However, in lieu of proportional representation being achieved in the House perhaps this bill is a step in the right direction.
Attorney at Law
All Trinidad General Workers’ Trade Union