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AG: Runoff won’t kill third parties

Published: 
Thursday, August 7, 2014

If third parties fail in an election, the Government’s proposed runoff poll system will allow their supporters to be “unshackled and free” to vote according to their conscience for those whom they really wish to support in a subsequent runoff, says Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. “It will also encourage third parties to put their best candidates forward to win for elections—and avoid the need for a runoff, as there’s no bronze medal third place in politics,” he said.

Ramlogan made the comment in response to concerns about aspects of the Government’s proposed constitutional reforms, particularly the runoff poll recommendation. This, as well as proposals for a two-term limit for prime ministers and right of recall of non-performing MPs, will be debated in Parliament next Monday.

Under the proposal, a runoff poll will take place wherever there is a general election or by-election and the results do not provide a candidate with at least 50 per cent of the votes cast. Ramlogan added that a runoff will be held 15 days after the general election or by-election.

On arguments that the proposals will wipe out third parties’ chances, Ramlogan said, “The present first-past-the-post system has already demonstrated that it’s eliminated third parties, so I find (MSJ leader David) Abdulah’s fear to be rather curious. From the ONR down to the ILP, the present system puts them into political oblivion.” He said the runoff will create a space for supporters of those parties to have a say in election of an MP for their area which they do not now have.

On claims that it might force smaller parties into a coalition with bigger parties, Ramlogan said, “It doesn’t force, rather it puts the power in the hands of the people to choose their representatives regardless of political affiliation. People will focus on the candidate and choose the person who they think will better represent and seek their interest in Parliament.

“The third parties, having made their political pitch for power, if they fail in the first poll, their supporters will be unshackled and free to vote in a runoff poll according to their conscience for the person they feel will better represent them.” Asked about the perception that the system is geared to facilitate horse-trading or negotiation among parties in the 15-day period before the runoff poll is held, Ramlogan said: “Political negotiation is a feature of politics that has been with the present system and will continue under any other system.

“These changes will neither encourage or discourage this. Horse-trading can take place at any or all times ... political alliances are formed among parties in the current scenario and shall continue to exist after this. “It will be up to third parties, when they make their sales pitch to the public, so to speak, to do their best, because no one offers themselves for elections aiming to be third-prize winner, people enter elections to win.”

Ramlogan said criticisms of the system by the MSJ and ILP were based on the assumption “advanced by them that they intend and expect to lose, but nevertheless want to have a say.” On whether the bills can be passed with a simple majority, Ramlogan said, “There are specific sections of the Constitution which are entrenched, which means a special majority is required to amend those sections. The section that concerns these amendments does not fall into that category.

“I note that former CCJ president and former Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide has endorsed Government’s position on this issue by confirming no special majority is required. EBC chairman Norbert Masson has also concurred with this view. There can be no rational disagreement on such a clause.” He said consequential amendments to the Representation of the People Act had been put forward, but they, likewise, didn’t require a special majority.