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COP seeks delay on vote

Monday, August 11, 2014
Leader of Fixin T&T Kirk Waithe, left, leads supporters in the Stop the Debate protest outside the Parliament building in Port-of-Spain yesterday. PHOTO: ROBERTO CODALLO

The Congress of the People (COP) has taken a decision that voting on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 should be deferred for at least one month to allow for greater analysis of the legislation. The COP’s national executive arrived at the decision yesterday after extensive deliberations with members of its national council at the party’s Operations Centre in Charlieville.
 “Maybe a month would do. It’s a reasonable time frame, I think,” COP leader Prakash Ramadhar, said.

He said taking the bill before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament was one option put forward. 
The meeting began about 10.30 am and concluded close to 4 pm and was attended by party founder Winston Dookeran, COP MPs and members. Ramadhar, addressing the media after, said “We believe no legislation should be brought without the population understanding it.”

Asked how the COP will eventually vote on the bill, he replied, “The national council left it up to us to vote.
“What is best for T&T is best for the COP.” 
Indicating in which direction the party may be voting, Ramadhar said constitutional reform was something the COP had wanted. 
Ramadhar is chairman of the Constitution Reform Commission, which held consultations nationwide on constitutional reform. 
“The runoff ballot will enrich participatory democracy. There will be two levels of voting now.”

He said, on the contrary, runoff elections will not kill off third parties. It was a question of whether the Westminster political system of first-past-the-post and the winner takes all should be left as it is, or be improved. 
Asked if he felt Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will heed the COP’s request, Ramadhar said, “It’s really a matter for the Prime Minister. But when it comes to giving an ear to matters of national importance, we’ve been well respected.”

Dookeran, who left the meeting before it ended, spoke briefly with the media, deferring questions to the political leader. He said the consensus among national council members was that debate on the bill can be started but should not be concluded just yet. 
Rufus Foster, who had contested the leadership post in the COP’s recent elections, said members totally rejected the runoff ballot. “They felt it should be shelved until properly analysed.”

Foster said Ramadhar, however, felt the COP should not waive its right to vote on the bill. While he spoke to the media, other COP members became agitated and said he was giving false information. An unidentified man in the COP office shouted, “Prakash is a UNC, Bhoe is a UNC, the whole executive gone UNC!” 
Ramadhar said the issue of runoff elections was discussed at the national consultations but members of the public did not take constitutional reform seriously. 

Responding to former prime minister and UNC leader Basdeo Panday who said runoff elections will take the country back to tribal voting, he said, “The issue of racial voting is subsiding.” 
He dismissed charges the bill will incite civil unrest. “On what basis? The country has shown itself committed to law and order.”

Suspended COP members Satu Ramcharan and Rudolph Hanamji kept up a protest demonstration outside the office for the duration of the meeting. They were joined for a short while by Kirk Waithe of Fixin T&T, who said the protest would continue later in the yesterday evening and today outside Parliament. 

‘Ramlogan wrong’
Constitutional Reform Commission member, Dr Merle Hodge has said the runoff ballot was not part of the People’s Partnership manifesto, the consultations, or the commission’s final report. 
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan responded to her disclosure by saying the commissioners were handsomely paid. Ramadhar, asked to respond to this, said, the AG’s statement was distasteful and that Hodge is a well-respected member of the national community who is entitled to her view.

COP chairman Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan said she also condemned the AG’s “attack” on Hodge.


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