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People should choose new president says top nominee
The president of the republic should be chosen by the people and not the Parliament, says Kenneth Lalla, SC, who is himself reportedly among the top nominees for the post of head of state. This would require constitutional reform, however, and until such time the procedure will have to be followed as set out in the constitution, Lalla added. He said the election of the president by the existing procedure is a foregone conclusion.
PNM MP Colm Imbert agreed, going so far as to say it was a “pretence” and “farcical.” Lalla said: “Basically, the appointment of the president is a foregone conclusion, because the party with the majority will get the president it wishes.” Lalla recommended a different system of electing a president in his book A Republic in Constitutional Transition (T&T).
“I recommended the president be elected by the people and not Parliament, and his term of office be four years, not exceeding two terms.” Does it make a difference who is president? Lalla believes the president generally acts in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet in power.
“The role of the president is merely ceremonial. While he is given certain powers under the constitution which he exercises independently of the executive, he generally acts in accordance with the advice of cabinet.” He believes the president should be someone who has been out of politics for at least five years.
Lalla, a former MP under the Rudranath Capildeo-led Democratic Labour Party from 1966-1971, has served as chairman of several commissions, including the Regional Judicial and Legal Service Commission, and as a temporary judge. He said he was identified as a presidential candidate in 1997 and the role of president does not have any special appeal to him.
“But I would be very pleased if I am considered a fit and proper person for the appointment,” he added. Lalla is also penned an autobiography in which he says he never went to school until he was 17, and lived alone from age ten after his parents died, supporting himself by working on a sugar cane plantation.
Imbert said the T&T constitution required at least 12 MPs to support a nomination for president. The PNM has 12 MPS and could nominate someone, he noted. “I see no reason why we should not. But that’s a matter for the parliamentary caucus and the leadership of the party,” he said.
But whether the Opposition nominates someone or not, it’s the party with the majority of votes in the electoral college that gets its way, Imbert pointed out. In 2008, the UNC had 16 MPs and nominated Ganase Ramdial, a former president of the Senate, but Richards, the PNM’s appointment, won.
About the way a president is elected, Imbert concluded, “It’s a pretence. The electoral college is made up of all elected and appointed members of Parliament. The government will always have a built-in majority and always get its way in the electoral college. “Even if the opposition nominates people, it will never get its way.
“The whole thing is a bit farcical. It’s just designed that way.” Asked why this was so, he replied, “Ask the people who framed the Constitution.” Imbert noted that the chief framer and T&T’s first president, Sir Ellis Clarke, is deceased. He said Parliament has to be very careful in picking a president.
“He has to be balanced. He is not just a ceremonial figure. He has to appoint members of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, the Integrity Commission and the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. He could fill up these commissions with a set of party hacks. And he is insulated,” Imbert warned.
Senior Counsel Avory Sinanan, lead counsel in the Commission of Enquiry into the July 1990 attempted overthrow of the government, said there has been a notion there should be consensus on the election of the president before the matter goes before the electoral college. Sinanan said this needed a constitutional requirement, however. “There is a need to look at constitutional reform,” he advised.
He would not go so far as to say the electoral college was a waste of time, he said, but he would like to see the election of the president not tied to party line. “The whole raison d’etre in having someone like the president is to have an independent person.”
Sinanan added, though, that one could not legislate for an independent president but could only judge his impartiality when he got into office and discharged his functions. He said the president should be drawn from a pool of distinguished citizens, even public servants, and should be someone every citizen sanctioned, irrespective of race, class or station in life. Leader of Government Business Dr Roodal Moonilal, asked for an interview, said: “I don’t have any further information.”
Politics and the presidents
National Security Minister Jack Warner recently described Richards as a “PNM puppet” after Richards asked for information from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar about the early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice Act. His request was in response to a petition presented by the PNM and other political and civil groups.
The clause could have led to UNC financiers Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson walking free on corruption charges. It caused a public outcry in September last year and had to be repealed. A T&T Guardian report yesterday said Richards had been asked if he was interested in serving again, but declined the offer.
Former president Arthur NR Robinson came in for heavy criticism when, exercising his constitutional powers, he chose to appoint Patrick Manning prime minister in December 2001 after the PNM/UNC 18/18 tie at the polls. Robinson said on the basis of “moral and spiritual values,” Manning was the better person to lead the Government.
The election of a new head of state is scheduled for February 15, about a month before the second term of President George Maxwell Richards ends on March 17. The new president will be elected by the electoral college, consisting of all Senators and MPs. Independent Senators, appointed by the president, can vote but not take part in the nomination process.
Ten Senators, the Speaker and 12 other Members of the House of Representatives constitute a quorum of the electoral college. The election of the president is done by secret ballot and is presided over by the Speaker.
Some prospective candidates for president
• Speaker Wade Mark
• Queen’s Counsel Karl Hudson-Phillips, former AG
• Senior Counsel Kenneth Lalla
• Chief Justice Ivor Archie
• Former head of BPTT Robert Riley
• Political analyst Dr Hamid Ghany
• Sir Ellis Emmanuel Innocent Clarke
September 24, 1976 – March 19, 1987
• Noor Mohamed Hassanali
March 20, 1987 – March 17, 1997
• Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson
March 18, 1997 – March 16, 2003
Who can be president
The Constitution says
23. (1) A person is qualified to be nominated for election as president if he is a citizen of T&T of the age of 35 years or upwards who at the date of his nomination has been ordinarily resident in T&T for ten years immediately preceding his nomination
24. (1) Where a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives is elected as president, his seat in the Senate or the House of Representatives, respectively, shall thereupon become vacant.
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