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Protest continues outside Senate over election bill

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
One of the protesters among the small group that picketed the Parliament building at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain, calling on senators not to support the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 yesterday. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

Protests over the government’s Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 continued yesterday, a week before the bill is scheduled to be debated in the Senate. Yesterday, the bill was laid in the Senate but other issues were on the Order Paper for debate. A group of around 30 people stood on the pavement on Wrightson Road, white shirts matching the placards in their hands, as they faced drivers and pedestrians with the message that they were not prepared to accept the bill.

Jamelia Reid-Cato said she felt the entire bill was unconstitutional and poorly drafted. She has gathered more than 3,000 signatures through an online petition calling for debate of the bill to be discontinued. “I am here today to protest this bill. I feel like my vote is being taken away. “This bill suggests that I must vote for my party, if it is a third party, and then in 15 days my vote for that party does not count,” she said.

Her chosen political party is not a third party, as she is a member of the People’s National Movement. But she said her political affiliation had nothing to do with her feelings on the amendments to the Constitution. “I want to raise the awareness that this bill needs to be stopped. It is poorly drafted and unconstitutional.” Reid-Cato, who is a logistics manager at a private company, said she had read the bill and been left with more questions than answers.

Virginia Nevarra, from Marabella, said she decided to come to Port-of-Spain early yesterday morning because she was afraid of the implications of the bill. “Why are they trying to take away my right to vote for whomever I want?” Nevarra asked. She said her main concern was over the runoff provision in the bill, which says if a candidate does not win by more than 50 per cent of votes in the initial poll, a second election would be called with the top two parties vying for the seat.

Another San Fernando resident said: “I have grandchildren. If I don’t stand up and be one of the people trying to stop this, then I would not be doing what is right for them.” Most of the protesters claimed to be independent of any political party, but said they were people concerned with their democratic rights and freedoms. “This bill is oppressive and it is a charade and a mockery,” said Trevor Contaste, as he held two placards in the air, facing passing cars and occasionally turning towards pedestrian traffic.

Fixin TnT President Kirk Waithe was also at the Parliament yesterday and said he would be delivering a package to all senators before the debate on Tuesday. “We will be giving them the copy of the petition initiated by Jamelia Reid-Cato and other documents to consider during this debate,” he said. When the bill was debated in the Lower House last week during a marathon session, a group of protesters camped outside the Parliament to highlight their objection to the controversial runoff provision.


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