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Bill will backfire on Govt—James

Mixed reactions to amended runoff bill
Published: 
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar poses with her senators for a group photo, following the passage of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 in the Upper House at Tower D International Waterfront, Port-of-Spain, on Thursday. PHOTO: MICHEAL BRUCE

Political analyst Dr Winsford James says the runoff legislation which was approved in the Senate on Thursday is pointless and will backfire on the People’s Partnership Government. The bill was passed in the Upper House on Thursday night after the Government agreed to an amendment on the controversial runoff vote made by Independent Senator Dhanayshar Mahabir.

The bill had initially proposed to trigger a runoff between the top two candidates if the winning candidate in a general election did not gain at least 50 per cent of the votes. 

But the amendment proposed to allow a third candidate in the runoff, where that candidate secures 25 per cent of the vote or where the third candidate obtains votes amounting to five per cent less than the second runner-up. But in the runoff featuring the three candidates, the Government agreed that the winner can receive less than 50 per cent of the votes cast.

Speaking with the T&T Guardian yesterday, James said the new legislation would in fact make it harder for the winning candidate to secure a majority vote and would also not guarantee an election victory for the incumbent government. 

Noting that the legislation was amended to allow for three candidates to contest the runoff, which would take place 15 days after the original poll, James said it would be easier for one of two candidates to get the 50 per cent vote in a runoff than it is for one of three candidates. He said the amendment will make it more difficult for any one candidate to secure the required 50 per cent or more votes.

Noting that if no candidate received the 50 per cent majority vote in the runoff, the candidate with the highest percentage of votes will be declared the eventual winner, James said: “That would be electing a minority winner, which was the exact situation the legislation was intended to change. It will takes us back to square one. “This is pointless legislation because it cannot guarantee that a candidate will be elected MP with 50 per cent of the votes cast in a constituency.”

James said the Government did not consult with the population on the measure as it was seeking its own agenda. “It was merely seeking to keep an election promise without consulting the population. It will backfire on the Government,” he insisted, saying the swing voters who determine the winner of elections will vote against the Government at the appropriate time. James said what the voters in the country also would like to know is “how does this legislation help the country or improve democracy.”