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As dissenting reform bill voices grow, AG knocks Hodge

Published: 
Saturday, August 9, 2014

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has dismissed allegations by Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) member Dr Merle Hodge that the controversial runoff ballot proposed in the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2014 was not part of the discussion during the commission’s interaction with the public or in its report.  

In a letter sent to the media late Thursday, Hodge, author, activist and retired University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer, called on the Government to hold its hand on the bill and described the runoff polls for MPs proposed in the draft legislation as “anti-democratic” and a contradiction of “the principle of proportional representation.”  

But speaking a press conference at his St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain office yesterday, Ramlogan questioned the basis for Hodge’s criticism, as he said the provision was indeed part of a report to Government prepared by the commission. “One would expect and hope that before they put their signatures on that document there would have been mature reflection, careful deliberation and genuine discussion amongst these persons who were appointed and paid, I might add, to serve on that commission,” Ramlogan said. 

Ramlogan also suggested  Hodge’s statement might have been motivated by her personal political views. “It’s a matter of public record that Mrs (sic) Hodge was a supporter of Winston Dookeran while I was part of the Congress of the People (COP), because she appeared on the platform in support of Mr Dookeran. “I don’t know if there is any merit to the claim that this is a hangover from the internal election campaign in 2010 that did not go too well for the Dookeran faction as opposed to the Ramadhar faction,” Ramlogan said. 

The AG reiterated his support for the legislation, which he said was long overdue, as the recommendations of several other similar commissions had been ignored by previous governments for the past 40 years. 

The provision was first revealed earlier this week by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar when she tabled the legislation, which also includes a two-term limit for prime ministers and right of recall for MPs, during her presentation at the opening of the fifth and final session of the tenth Parliament. The bill is to be debated on Monday. 

If passed by a simply majority in Parliament, MPs who  win by less than 50 per cent of votes cast in the constituency will have to participate in a runoff poll. The secondary poll will take place within two weeks of the main election, with voters deciding between the two candidates who received the most votes in the initial count.  

MPs will be vulnerable
Ramlogan said the runoff polls were a direct and logical consequence of the proposed recall of non-performing MPs and was needed to complement it. “You cannot give a right of recall with so many MPs elected with a minority of the votes cast. They will be vulnerable to be recalled,” Ramlogan said. Questioned on the possibility  that fewer voters might participate in the runoff poll as opposed to the initial general election, Ramlogan said it was unlikely. 

“We are yet to find such a case in the world from our research. It is always you get a larger turnout,” he said.