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Axe the Praks
Hours before Senators were set to debate the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 in the upper House today, a small group of Congress of the People (COP) members placed an “X” over the party’s logos on their t-shirts and raised placards to protest the runoff provision of the bill. The protest took place during a panel discussion on the bill at the Himalaya Club in Barataria, when four members of the COP left their seats to retrieve placards that were in opposition to the runoff position.
The placards bore statements like “Axe the Praks,” “Senators must say no to runoff,” “Run-off a dagger in the heart of the COP,” “Prakash the Betrayer” and “Senators ‘do so’ to the Run Off.” The protest group was led by Rudolph Hanamji. The protest, which was mostly silent, began during a presentation by Barbadian political analyst Peter Wickham, after he described Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar as the only Caribbean leader sitting who was willing to give up power.
He said, however, that is was unfortunate that T&T was having the discussion of constitutional reform in the context of one party versus another. “T&T has sacrificed the opportunity to have an adult conversation on constitutional change,” Wickham said. Wickham’s comments followed a tone of positive views on the bill, which was only directly opposed by veteran journalist Sunity Maharaj.
Maharaj, who made it clear she did not support the popular view of the panel, said she could not support any legislation which did not stem from proper process. Noting that the runoff provision was added to the bill without consultation, Maharaj said she was in complete opposition of the bill. She added that as the COP’s general council had taken a position to have the debate of the bill delayed the day before it was debate in the lower House, the party’s leader Prakash Ramadhar had gone rogue.
“How can you talk about the COP having power when this bill was not even discussed with the COP before it was voted upon? Maharaj asked. “When the COP can give an instruction to its leader and for all I see, the COP’s leader has gone rogue.” Maharaj said the conscience vote allowed by Persad-Bissessar could not explain Ramadhar’s vote. “The conscience vote did not release the leader of the COP from the instructions his party gave him,” she said.
She said while Government was sending a message of giving power to the people, this could not be done with a flawed process. “You cannot plant autocracy and preach democracy.” Indira Rampersad, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, said the bill allowed for even the prime minister to be recalled and said it would lead to people-centred government.
She said while there had been calls for proportional representation, this was not always the best formula and gave the example of a hung Parliament in Guyana as a result of that system.Rampersad also expressed fear that if constitutional reform did not happen now, it would never happen. This was negatively received by members of the crowd who vociferously asked for evidence to support this.
The runoff provision facilitates a second election if no candidate is able to garner more than 50 per cent of votes in an initial election. Only the two parties with the most votes will be eligible to run in second election to be held within 15 days of the general election. But several sectors of the public have spoken out against this measure, saying it was not discussed during the public forums on constitutional reform.