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Unacceptable delay in naming presidential candidates
With just over two weeks to go for the naming of a replacement for President George Maxwell Richards, whose second term ends in mid-March, there is still no word on who will next hold that high office.
If reports are true, neither Government nor opposition has yet decided on their respective candidates, although many names have been thrown into the public domain.
Given the importance of the Office of the President, which is quasi-ceremonial in nature, this is unacceptable. The President is the nominal source of executive power. While in practice, executive authority is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, it is the President who appoints the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and members of the Senate—the latter on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Events in recent years have demonstrated the critical role that the President can play in matters related to the governance of the country, some of which were never dreamed of by the framers of the Constitution. That is why there is so much public interest and high expections about the process.
Those are sufficient reasons why candidates should have been named early enough to allow the public to voice concerns and discuss their capabilities and competence. That certainly would help in the selection of a consensus president.
It is also important to do background checks on prospective candidates to ensure that when a final choice is made, there are no issues which might cause embarrassment. Missteps in selecting candidates for the Integrity Commission and now a commission of enquiry make it more important than ever that an airtight process should be followed in electing T&T’s next President.
As well, the time may have come for a date and time to be announced for such appointments well in advance of nomination closing dates so the public can set their watches by it and discuss it—a matter which should also relate to general and local government election dates, which are subject to a “back-pocket” practice.
Another item that needs to be put on the national agenda is a review of the electoral college system by which T&T’s presidents are elected. In the currrent system, all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are assembled together and convened, presided over by the Speaker of the House, to vote for a President by secret ballot. Ten Senators, the Speaker and 12 other MPs constitute a quorum.
Under this arrangement, the candidate of the party in power has the strongest chance—in fact, almost certainly the only chance—of being elected and there is no real opportunity for public consensus. As a result, there is a very real possibility that the person selected as President, although expected to be impartial, could be politically influenced.
Accusations to that effect were certainly made with regard to Arthur NR Robinson, who served from 1997-2003 and was the first active politician to be elected President. And given today’s increasingly hypersensitive political climate, no doubt that will be the case if ever another politician ascends to the highest office in the land.
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