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Kamla knocks race card use in reform debate

PNM trying to create panic
Published: 
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
A United National Congress (UNC) supporter chats with Community Development Minister Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters, right, during the party’s Monday Night Forum at the Gasparillo Secondary School. Photo: RISHI RAGOONATH

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says the People’s National Movement (PNM) is using the “racial bogeyman” to create panic over the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. She made the comment at the United National Congress’s (UNC) Monday Night Forum at Gasparillo Secondary School, as she sought to appease public fears and concerns about the bill. 

Dismissing criticism, she said the provisions—two-term limits for prime ministers, the right to recall and second-ballot runoff voting—were about giving more power to the people. Quoting from articles in Jamaica and the Barbados Nation, she said the Government had been receiving a lot of local and foreign support for the three constitutional amendments. But she said the PNM was using the race card in its argument against the bill.

“In typical PNM fashion, the Rowley PNM has once again introduced the racial bogeyman. “What they will not say openly, they will say it with the Calcutta ship. Here we are bringing constitution amendment to give more power to the people and what they doing is trying to play on the fears of people by introducing the racial bogeyman. 

“They say we are being undemocratic, they say we want to bring rule to the country in a way to steal the election and others are putting it very clearly that this bill and the runoff election will introduce ethnic voting and bring the predominance of ethnic voting in the country. “Nothing is further from the truth. This is not the intent and will never be the intent. It will be impossible for any ethnic group to dominate the voting to skew the results of any election in any direction.”

Census stats tell story
She presented a 2011 population and housing census demographic report to debunk this claim. Statistics on ethnic origin, she said, showed 35.4 per cent were East Indian, 34.2 per cent African, 22.8 per cent mixed, 6.2 per cent undeclared and 1.4 per cent Chinese, white, Syrian, Lebanese, et cetera. Through the runoff system, she said a candidate must get more than 50 per cent of the votes to be elected MP.

“So if East Indian is 35.4 per cent and (even with) every single Indian vote, they can never get 51 per cent required. “And if every single (person of) African origin voted for the candidate they will not get more than 50 per cent required. So how can one ethnic group dominate the poll and election?” She added, “This runoff voting will instead force us to unite. But if you had a 30 per cent vote for an MP, then one ethnic group can dominate the vote in that constituency. 

“If we put this runoff in effect, never again would tribal and ethnic voting be the pattern for voting in T&T, it would be the majority of the people in T&T.” Many democratic countries use term limits and the right of recall, she said, and T&T would become the 92nd country to have right of recall.

Owing to requests for the debate, scheduled for the Senate on August 26, to be delayed, the PM said, “The Law Association or any other civil-society group has the right to send us any suggestion, any recommendations. So there is time for those who wish to send it.” She said the PNM, has-been politicians and other detractors are trying to create mass hysteria, “fire and brimstone, Gaza Strip and Afghanistan” over the bill.

She asked where and when consultations were held for the PNM’s ten-point plan for constitutional reform and whether the PNM was going back to the executive president, rapid-rail project, smelters and property tax, which were all proposed under the Patrick Manning-led PNM government.