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Key reforms still for Constitution

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar sought the high ground quite energetically at the start of Monday’s parliamentary debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. One key piton in the Prime Minister’s effort to climb above the furore that the bill had created was that she was allowing a conscience vote for the members of the People’s Partnership. “I’m releasing all MPs of Cabinet from the doctrine of collective responsibility on this matter,” the PM said in opening the debate.

That one-time free paper was meant to allow any member of her party to vote without repercussions for failing to toe the party line and to vote according to their own judgment of the bill’s merits or demerits. Necessity may well have been the mother of this innovation, however, as the COP had, on Sunday, called on the Government to postpone voting and refer the bill for further consultations or deliberation by a joint select committee, and signalling the  possibility that at least some of its remaining MPs would not vote for the bill. 

That didn’t stop COP leader Prakash Ramadhar from vigorously defending the constitutional reforms and the runoff provision in particular as “a very poor but necessary substitute for proportional representation.” The COP’s founder, Winston Dookeran, listening to his “inner voice,” unexpectedly spoke out loud and clear on the Government benches against the bill and its implementation. Both Mr Dookeran and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan voted against the bill, while Rodger Samuel abstained.