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Kamla frees up Govt MPs
Parliamentary debate on Government’s controversial constitutional reform package headed for late conclusion last night after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar launched discussions by freeing her People’s Partnership (PP) MPs from collective Cabinet responsibility to allow them a “conscience vote”.
At the same time, however, the PM reminded her MPs of the PP’s election promise to the population for constitutional reform.
“I’m releasing all MPs of Cabinet from the doctrine of collective responsibility on this matter,” Persad Bissessar said at the start of yesterday’s proceedings.
Persad-Bissessar’s “conscience vote announcement” was a negative reply to the Congress of the People’s (COP) call on Sunday for Government to postpone voting on the bill and refer it for further consultations or a joint select committee.
After COP took that position, party leader Prakash Ramadhar said he would convey the stance to the PM.
However, in piloting the debate at 10.30 am yesterday, Persad-Bissessar freed herself of making a decision on the COP’s call and also freed her MPs, COP included, to vote for or against the bill, or abstain as they pleased.
Debate started on the legislation inside the Parliament, with groups of yellow-clad UNC supporters and red-clad PNMites demonstrating outside for and against the package respectively.
Last week, controversy erupted in some quarters after Persad-Bissessar laid the bills, involving proposals for a two-term limit for prime ministers, right of recall and the now controversial runoff poll, where candidates receive less than 50 per cent of the votes cast, in Parliament.
But in clarifying concerns about the bills yesterday—and producing PNM documents and reports confirming the PNM had discussed and approved the same procedures within its party—Persad-Bissessar said:
“It cannot be that we must do things the same way we always did if we want change and to improve. The Constitution is a living organism, it must evolve and develop when the people’s needs change.”
Noting the Westminster system of toeing the collective responsibility line, or risking resignation or dismissal, the PM added:
“In the circumstances, when the final vote is taken on this bill all MPs on the Government side will not be bound by collective responsibility when calling the vote but will instead take a conscience vote and be guided by their conscience as to whether they vote ‘yea’ or ‘nay’.”
The PM added: “I do this in view of the very fundamental important changes to enhance T&T’s democracy so I give all MPs the leverage to vote according to your conscience rather than be bound by collective responsibility.”
She said her Government was committed to respecting the voice of the minority while respecting the will of the majority.
Explaining her move to a “conscience vote,” the PM said: “Today, I am saying I give you that leverage and leeway to vote as you think best as to whether you will seek to keep the promises the PP made and the manner in which you keep those promises and what other mechanisms you may suggest.
“This means when the final vote is taken, I will call for a division for that each MP can then register their vote according to your conscience.”
Her announcement brought murmurs of “amazing...” and “historic...” from PP MPs.