One of Trinidad and Tobago's constitutional experts, Senior Counsel Kenneth Lalla, says "the proliferation of issues" facing Prime Minister Patrick Manning is making "it threatening for a Prime Minister to want to sit there and continue to take the criticisms" facing him from the local population. He explained that possibilities existed for Manning to go to Parliament on April 9�and announce an election date before the no-confidence motion against him could be debated.
He added that it would not be improbable for a sitting Prime Minister such as Manning to call a snap general election, although he had almost three more years left�in his term. Lalla said Manning appeared to be "in desperation," and "it might be better for him to lose the election and allow the Opposition to get into government, in which case the Opposition would be faced with an empty treasury. "A sitting Prime Minister may feel very embarrassed to be sitting there and having all these statements and trails of allegations against him. They make it difficult to govern," Lalla told the Trinidad Guardian in a telephone interview yesterday
"These are the factors which would weigh heavily on the government, and, instead of resigning, you go to the polls, and probably he would feel vindicated." Lalla, former Chairman of the Public Service Commission, pointed out that Section 68 (1) of Trinidad and Tobago's Constitution allowed: "The President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may at any time prorogue or dissolve Parliament." "The proliferation of issues at this particular juncture makes it threatening for a Prime Minister to want to sit there and continue to take the criticisms (and) the insults like you see when he goes on his walkabouts," Lalla said.
"The Prime Minister is very emotional about many things. He seems to be very concerned about the motion of no-confidence that is likely to come up (in Parliament). "He may want to pre-empt that motion of no-confidence." Lalla said Manning would want to advise the President to prorogue the Parliament, so that the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister would lapse and would be of no consequence. He indicated that Section 69 (1) of Trinidad and Tobago's Constitution allowed: "A general election of members of the House of Representatives shall be held at such time within three months after every dissolution of Parliament, as the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, shall appoint.
"It would be very interesting to see what the outcome (of a snap general election) would be–whether the people of Trinidad and Tobago will renew the life of the PNM for another term, or whether they will demonstrate that maturity–political maturity–and deal with issues rather than polarisation of voting." Lalla elaborated that Trinidad and Tobago shared a history of voting on the basis of racial polarisation. "There is some evidence that people really are aware now of that fact, that of going in that particular way or in that particular direction (of race-based voting) will spell disaster for the welfare of Trinidad and Tobago. "The country is, at this particular junction, where they are overly concerned with the change of government.
"They simply are very disenchanted with the modus operandi of this government, and the Government, in my view–and I am sure in the people's view, too–are very disenchanted. "They are very frustrated; They are deprived of so many amenities: one of them is a primary concern at this particular time." Lalla stressed that such factors weighed "heavily in the minds of the electorate" against the government. He added that the report of the Commission of Enquiry investigating the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (Udecott) and the local construction sector would also have a "tremendous effect on the population's perception. "The report, from what we read in the press, is clearly heavily-weighted against the government integrity–political integrity. "It reveals areas of gross incompetence and the mismanagement of the people's business, particularly for defrauding and plundering the treasury and so on," Lalla said.
"These are factors which certainly would weigh heavily."
Lalla also raised concerns about Manning hosting a general election less than three years after Trinidad and Tobago went to the polls for one. "Why would he call an early election? "There must be some reason. It is very unusual for a government with three more years to go to certainly decide to take an about-turn to go to the polls. "There certainly would be factors which would motivate that or influence that decision. "The factors confronting the government at this stage are, indeed, profuse, and government senses its unpopularity. "It may be that the Prime Minister himself would want to dispel the feeling that he is
Trinidad and Tobago's Constitution
68. (1) The President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may at any time prorogue or dissolve Parliament.
(2) Subject to sub-section (3), Parliament, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date of its first sitting after any dissolution, and shall then stand dissolved.
(3) At any time when Trinidad and Tobago is at war, Parliament may extend the period of five years specified in sub-section (2) for not more than 12 months at a time; so however that the life of Parliament shall net be extended under this sub-section for more than five years.
(4) Where, between a dissolution of Parliament and the next ensuing general election of members to the House of Representatives, an emergency arises of such a nature that in the opinion of the Prime Minister it is necessary for the two Houses to be summoned before that general election can be held, the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may summon the two Houses of the preceding Parliament, but the election of members of the House of Representatives shall proceed and the Parliament that has been summoned shall, if not sooner dissolved, again stand dissolved on the day on which the general election is held.
69 (1) A general election of members of the House of Representatives shall be held at such time within three months after every dissolution of Parliament as the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, shall appoint.
(2) As soon as practicable after every general election, the
President shall proceed under section 40 to the appointment of Senators.
(3) Where a vacancy occurs in the House of Representatives within the first four years of the life of the Parliament a bye-election shall be held to fill such vacancy not later than ninety days from the date of the announcement by the Speaker of the vacancy.