Last update: 10-Dec-2013 10:54 am
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Crossing of the Floor Act an offensive provision
It has never left me—that overwhelming sense of nausea, distress and despair I experienced on the passing of the Crossing of the Floor Act. It is not something I would have expected to be countenanced, far less fathered, by a figure of the erudition, philosophical grounding and stature of Eric Williams. To me, it is a stain on the canvas of his life’s work and a disservice to our strivings as a nation.
That Act opened the unwholesome backdoor through which political parties gained surreptitious recognition by and became a cornerstone of our fundamental law, our constitution. It is not right that they should be accorded such a hallowed place. A political party is in fact nothing more than a private members’ club. It and it alone decides on its membership. It designs its own constitution, makes its own rules and imposes its own discipline, and it seeks first the interests of its members and their friends.
There is nothing at all wrong with any of that. What is incomprehensible, and to my mind, wholly unacceptable, and indeed intolerable, is that such a creature can enjoy power under a national constitution to determine who may or may not, some time after having been duly elected by the people, remain a member of parliament.
Mind you, I readily admit that that way of being fits neatly into our sorry political dispensation. A political party in our space, more than being a private members’ club, is a monolith, if one that would recreate itself by rapidly chiselling off offending parts, like any respectable snake changing its skin. So there’s only one brain, one mind needed at a time.
By the nefarious process of screening, where there should instead be primary elections, the leader determines who is a candidate for elections; then, without any oversight from any other authority, he determines how many and which persons constitute the executive and for how long; and, again without any oversight, he determines the membership of the Upper House of parliament. I repeat, the person of whom I speak is nothing more than the president of a private members’ club!
In a way, then, the power to expel a duly elected member from the parliament because he ceases to be a member of the private members’ club, is arguably a natural evolution, even if in a certain very unfortunate direction.
Nothing exposes our absurd political dispensation more starkly than the current reality in which the number of ministers constituting the Executive, most of the members of which are voting members of the House of Representatives, is nine more than the number of seats that the ruling coalition has in the House of Representatives, considering that the House of Representatives has a duty to keep a sharp eye on the actions of the Executive.
The Westminster system can work in the United Kingdom where the remaining 615 members of the House of Commons could easily constitute a check and balance on 36 ministers.
Our pretend Westminster system is, clear as day, a complete and absolute farce that should impel every citizen with at least half a brain to demand relief from deep shame and embarrassment of having to live under it. Errol Cupid, writing in the Guardian of September 11, reminded us that, under the real Westminster System, elected members of parliament are not delegates either of political parties or even of their constituents: they are representatives of their constituents.
A delegate acts in accordance with the directives of his principals; a representative takes into account the wishes of his constituents. In that light, I consider even talk of a power to recall to be idle. Constituents must either be able to pressure a representatives to resign or wait for the next elections.
Shame and embarrassment seem to have sufficed before last Monday to dissuade the bosses of the private members’ clubs wielding power from having resort to a manifestly pernicious provision. Today, shame and embarrassment seem to be in short supply. When we write a new constitution, we must steer very clear of that offensive provision.
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