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Constitution change by stealth and deception

Published: 
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Government says it wants to achieve a higher level of participatory democracy but seeks to do so through a runoff electoral measure concocted in secret by its backroom boys and without public knowledge or participation. “Irony of ironies!” 

Further, it is beyond comprehension that the Government would seek to achieve this greater level of democracy by passing legislation to require MPs to be elected by a majority but is seeking to do so through a simple majority with blatant disregard for the representative voice of the Opposition. 

Democratic participation goes beyond what the law allows and must have currency in the political culture. In this regard it has been established that the runoff proposal was not discussed in the immediate consultation or in the long history of constitutional reform discussions going back in the modern era to the 1987 Hyatali Commission. It is patently absurd and contradictory for a government to claim that its intention is to promote democratic change and enhance peoples’ participation but seeks to do so by stealth and deception. 

I continue to counter the claims (whether or not the Bill was passed) raised by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her spokespersons to substantiate the Bill, particularly the runoff measure, to demonstrate that in addition to the fundamental failure to allow people to have their say on the runoff proposals before they were brought to the Parliament, the supporting arguments of the government are at best weak, at worst dishonestly contrived. 

Here is another of the false contentions: the runoff poll gives additional choices to the voter and is therefore more democratic. Such a contention measures democracy only on how many times an elector is allowed to vote. 

Electoral and political choices must be measured in far more fundamental terms: the recognition of the ideological preferences of the individual; the programmatic choices of an individual preferring one party’s outline for human, economic and social development over the other; the human connection to the individuals in a party, even tribal allegiances of a voter feeling far more comfortable being amongst his/her own—and this must be distinguished from voting race because of hate of another race.

By forcing an individual to narrow his political party choices between one of two parties he did not originally vote for is to channel democratic choice along a narrow a corridor. Ultimately the elimination of third and fourth parties from the runoff poll seeks to force the elector to vote for a party that he/she is fundamentally opposed to; it ignores the fact that for decades 30 per cent of the electorate has stood on the sidelines and refused to be persuaded by either the Afro or Indo party.

Moreover, eliminating parties originally chosen by electors diminishes the possibility of new parties arising with new ideologies, philosophies, and their perception of human development. Voting for the Movement for Social Justice and or the Independent Liberal Party is a clearly defined statement against the UNC and the PNM. Why should such an elector be forced in a runoff to vote for one of the PNM or the UNC parties which he/she may consider anathema to national development?

The off-handed suggestion that such electors could simply abstain ignores the noble struggle of our ancestors to win the right to vote despite colonial racism and human domination. Subliminally, the runoff system fosters opportunism over idealism: “I will sleep with the devil to ensure I share in office.” 

Desperate to counter the emerging majority view (the MFO polls is more relevant because of its methodology) that the runoff poll is the UNC’s attempt to have its ethnic base cling together, the Prime Minister laid a bogus statistical argument on the nation. Use of the raw statistical data (Indo 35.5 per cent, Afro 34.5 per cent) to counter the view that the runoff favours the UNC ignores the demographics of constituencies in which voting takes place.

First off, the Indo and Afro populations are not spread evenly across constituencies; it ignores the possibility that voting patterns could show that one group votes in larger percentages than the other, thus negating the crude figures; it also does not say whether one of the ethnic groups is more likely to vote for the other party than the other; and the use of the raw population data does not consider the demographics of the marginal seats, the ones which will determine the poll.  

The Prime Minister has also conveniently ignored the fact that in last year’s local government poll she beseeched the UNC electorate not to split the vote and to come back home to the party. The take-away issue here is: when the arguments used to defend this runoff proposal and elements of the two other well debated recall vote and fixed dates for elections do not make sense, then the rationale for the measure has to be found in other motivating factors. 

As this column has suggested the motive is entrenched in the view, perhaps backed by data, that in a one-on-one runoff in the marginals, the UNC will come out ahead of the PNM.