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Dookeran, Carolyn vote against Constitution (Amendment) Bill
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran this morning voted against a bill that many have said would signal the death of his political party in future elections.
Dookeran, former political leader of the Congress of the People, and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, the party's current chair, both voted against the Constitution (Amendment) Bill after a marathon session in the Lower House.
Another COP member, Rodger Samuels, abstained.
COP political leader and Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar voted for the bill, along with Arts Minister Lincoln Douglas. The Bill passed with Government's simple majority.
In his contribution to the debate, Dookeran said his decision came after listening to his “inner voice.”
Earlier in the day Prime MInister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had announced that she would allow a division to be called at the end of the debate, despite needing a simple majority for the bill to be passed.
She told Government MPs that they should vote according to conscience.
"I cannot sit here and allow the next generation's interest to be compromised by the politics of today," Dookeran said.
“I also have an obligation to ensure that the young people of this country will have a political and electoral system in which they can in fact have free and independent choice in exercising their democratic rights.”
Dookeran’s statements were met with loud thumping from the opposition side and silence from Government benches.
"If I were to vote in support of this run-off mechanism I would be voting against the principle of proportional mechanism and that is my major concern at this point and I cannot have spent an entire life in search of a mechanism to bring about a wider participation of all the different groups in this society and adopted that we should move toward proportional representation in some form and fashion and now have to simply accept that a run-off mechanism will be a substitute and in fact it is a contradiction," he said.
“I was disappointed that such a mechanism was not accepted or any other mechanism of that nature.”
The former Congress of the People (COP) leader said he had raised his concerns in Cabinet and believed it was somewhat in recognition of that, as well as the fact that the COP took a strong position on the issue, that Persad-Bissessar had indicated she was withdrawing the obligation of collective responsibility.
“I appreciate that, but for me, if conscience matters and indeed it matters and we must exercise our conscience in an issue like this, it is also important to exercise consience in the concept of collective responsibility.”
“So I am not prepared here to simply accept that conscience matters in the vote before us. I am also here to accept the obligation of that vote in context of collective responsibility.”
Adding that he would seek a meeting with Persad-Bissessar to further discuss the matter, he said he had an obligation to himself and to his own conscience, to support the aspirations of the 140,000 people who voted for the COP ion 2007 and perhaps beyond that.
“Because I have to listen to my inner voice, I have to indicate to this honourable house that I will be unable to support this bill in its presence form. I will therefore have no choice but to vote against it.”