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People Power? Check the fine print

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Kamla wants to reform the voting system. Opponents don’t like the bounce-through timing. But what about the proposals? Would they bring Power to the People?

Recall: Nice idea; but check the fine-print
The process can start only in Year Four of a parliament. So, do something unspeakable in Year One, and you’re good for a few more years. The initial petition must be signed by ten per cent of voters in your constituency. That’s a high hurdle, but not impossible. Then two-thirds of voters have to sign up for the recall within two weeks. That’s a toughie. In 2010, total voter turnout was 69 per cent. Some listed voters die or live overseas. The most heinous MP will still hold core support.

There is no secret ballot. Only those who want to recall an unscrupulous MP must visit a polling station to sign, in full public view. One of the few Commonwealth countries with a recall mechanism is Belize, which amended its constitution in 2008. Their process has proved challenging. An influential pressure group wants to remove Elvin Penner, a former junior immigration minister who last year facilitated a Belizean passport for Korean criminal suspect in a Taiwanese jail. 

Recall supporters in December last year claimed 2,002 signatures for their recall petition, more than the required 30 per cent. But the chief election officer rejected 337; that left 79 too few. A court challenge to that decision will be heard in November.
If the names are eventually accepted, next step would be a constituency referendum, in which 65 per cent of the electors must vote. It won’t be easy. Meanwhile, the clock’s ticking.


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