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Abdulah starts education drive

MSJ rejects Govt’s reform bill
Published: 
Friday, August 8, 2014
Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) leader David Abdulah, center, addresses the media on the controversial constitutional reform proposals at the party’s San Fernando headquarters yesterday. Looking on is Akins Vidale, left, and Gregory Fernandez. PHOTO: KRISTIAN DE SILVA

Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) leader David Abdulah yesterday hinted at future protests should Government's proposed constitutional changes be passed in Parliament next week. He said the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014, which will be debate on Monday, is “fatally flawed” and would leave many citizens disenfranchised if it was made into law.

Addressing a media conference at the party’s St Joseph Village, San Fernando, yesterday, Abdulah called on the Congress of the People (COP) leader Prakash Ramadhar to reject the bill, saying if passed it would also effectively bury the COP. The MSJ, he said, met in emergency session on Wednesday to discuss the proposed amendments, which would pave the way for a two-term limit for prime ministers, a right of recall and a run-off poll if candidates did not receive at least 50 per cent of the votes in their constituency. 

The party, he said, intended to embark on a public education campaign next week to inform citizens about the proposed amendments and how they would affect their rights. He said the sessions, which would be held in San Fernando and Port-of-Spain, were the first step they would take in objection to the legislation. “We do not think the average citizen understands the changes to the provisions of the Constitution.

“We feel it is our responsibility to educate, to inform and agitate to take action in defence to democracy. We are going to take action in defence of democracy, depending on what happens in Parliament,” Abdulah added. When asked if further action entailed protest action, he said: “There could be many different forms of action. We will announce, at the appropriate time, what the further action is.”

Abdulah said the party had no problem with the ideas of a two-term limit and the right of recall but had a difficulty with the mechanisms of the process being proposed, which he described as “nonsense and fatally flawed.” He questioned the timing of the government’s taking such a significant piece of legislation to Parliament when it was meant to be on vacation. “This is not the way one ought to conduct a democratic process as fundamental as the Constitution. 

“This is not emergency legislation to deal with a crisis of flooding or any national security issue that arose unplanned and so on. “We are talking about amending the Constitution. We are talking about issues about how MPs are elected, which goes to the root of the democratic process,” Abdulah argued. 

COP MPs should reject it
Abdulah took issue with the proposal for a second ballot or run-off which proposes that a candidate can only become a member of the House of Representatives if they obtain more than 50 per cent of the votes cast in a constituency. If, at the first poll, that majority is not achieved, a second poll will be held within 15 days between the top two candidates. But that, he said, could create “total instability, uncertainly and insecurity” and would entrench the two major political parties as the only options, allowing for voting along racial lines. 

He questioned where such a proposal came from, since it was not recommended in any of the documents from previous constitutional reform committees. Abdulah said the proposal removed citizens’ right to vote for the candidate of their choice, should the candidate be from a third party, such as the COP. He said the COP should take note of that and state its position on the amendment, suggesting the party’s MPs should reject it outright in Parliament when the bill went for debate.

“If they have any ounce of integrity left in them they should vote against this piece of legislation when it comes to the House on Monday because it is absolutely opposed to what the COP has espoused in constitutional reform. “It (the run-off) was not part of the recommendations of the committee he (Ramadhar) chaired. What this will do is to constitutionally bury the COP,” he said. He said that proposal will also deny people’s constitutional right to form and be a part of a political party of their choice. 

Run-offs are inoperable in T&T’s political system, he said, and were only applicable to countries where citizens voted directly for the executive, such as a president.