Renuka Singh Camille McEachnie
Who is it going to be?
The only way to break the deadlock in Tobago is if one person breaks ranks and votes against their own party.
That vote will be done in secret when the Assembly meets tomorrow and no one will know who determined the vote for the temporary presiding officer.
Two political analysts, Dr Hamid Ghany and Dr Winford James both agree that only a defection could now break the deadlock.
James said that one party could give way and agree to become the minority party as a way to break the deadlock, but admitted that he did not see that happening.
“We have a crisis,” James said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“There are no procedures laid out in the THA Act for this event that we are facing,” he said.
“This can only be resolved by defection, which I doubt would be tolerated or a re-election,” James said.
A defection, he said, will have consequences.
“The party that commands the majority can appoint three councillors and the minority leader appoints one councillor. So if you give way, by some kind of arrangement, there are these consequences and I cannot imagine any party will give way,” he said.
Ghany was part of a committee that drafted the THA Act back in the 1980’s and yesterday said that there are no provisions in the existing Act to end the current stalemate.
On Monday, history was written when the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) captured four seats from the People’s National Movement (PNM) to for a 6-6 THA deadlock.
It is the first time in the history of the THA that a result has ended in a tie.
The PNM had previously enjoyed a 20-year reign in Tobago.
“The 12 Assemblymen have to be sworn in by the President and after that the 12 Assemblymen have to elect the presiding officer, either from among themselves or from outside,” Ghany said.
“The deadlock will come in the vote because it will come up 6-6,” he said.
“What is going to happen is there is going to be a stalemate that unless somebody breaks rank in the secret ballot, they are going to get a number of repeated votes,” he said.
The President, Ghany said, has no authority in this matter and can only watch on.
In 2001 there was an 18-18 tie in the results of the general elections and the then President, Arthur NR Robinson broke it by appointing then PNM leader Patrick Manning as prime minister over the incumbent prime minister Basdeo Panday.
However, the experts insist that this THA matter is not a constitutional one and as such the President has no authority.
According to the THA Act Section 6-8, the assemblymen are sworn in by the President and then the presiding officer is selected from among those 12 assemblymen, either from within or externally.
“If they get past the election of a presiding officer, then the presiding officer will receive nominations for the post of Chief Secretary. When they put it to the vote it may come back 6-6,” Ghany said.
“Under the Act, the presiding officer is required to have another vote and receive nominations again,” he said.
If that second vote comes back tied, then the presiding officer holds a “casting vote” to determine the Chief Secretary.
“So that is why the presiding officer position is so important because that person is going to be empowered with a casting vote to decide who the Chief Secretary of Tobago will be,” he said.
Ghany said that in order to even get to the election of a presiding officer, someone had to break ranks in the secret vote.
“Anything could happen because this will not play out in the open with a show of hands, it is secret ballot,” he said.
Guardian Media also reached out to attorneys Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Martin Daly but both men requested more time before commenting.
Tobago lawyer: Fresh elections only solution to THA tie
Meanwhile, Tobago lawyer Christo Gift said yesterday the only way to resolve the 6-6 tie is to go back to the polls.
“As it is, it seems to me that what you will have to do is have a rematch. I do not know how you can go forward from here. We got here because the Assembly was prorogued and in discussions with the Prime Minister and the then Chief Secretary, an election was called.”
He continued:” The problem is you don’t have a new Chief Secretary as the Assembly has not met as yet to have any appointments, and you are not likely to get to that point given equality in numbers. The only way now is to consult with the former Chief Secretary on a new date for elections.”
He said Parliament must address this issue soon and change the THA Act to prevent a similar situation from occurring.