It’s official: fresh elections are ahead for Tobago – and more electoral districts.
Government will seek to amend the law to allow both developments in order to break the six-six deadlock that resulted from last month’s Tobago House of Assembly elections.
Prime Minister Keith Rowley announced the move in Parliament yesterday.
The proposed legislation was laid in Parliament for debate ahead. It can be passed by a simple majority – Government votes alone – Parliament confirmed.
The proposal will allow the THA to have a fresh election if a new assembly is not installed 14 days after an election.
It will also seek to increase Tobago’s electoral districts from the current 12 areas to 15.
This, after the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP), which contested the January 25 THA election, each got six electoral districts – creating an unprecedented, deadlocked result.
On the way forward, Rowley said, “I want to give the assurance to all Tobagonians that this Bill proposes the most efficient and viable solution for Tobago in its current dilemma.
The proposal to increase seats from 12 to 15 is drawn from the Tobago Self-Government Bill. That Bill was produced after two years of extensive consultations in Tobago and Parliamentary committee talks
The Bill will provide the date for when such new elections should be held.
It will provide amendments to the Elections and Boundaries Commission (Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly) Act, to provide for the electoral districts for Tobago; and for a new report to be laid by the EBC where the assembly remains dissolved after a primary election and no assembly is constituted.
Rowley said there was a real possibility of the reoccurrence of a deadlocked result if a fresh poll is taken with the existing twelve electoral districts in the island of Tobago.
“It has been advised that the Act be amended to increase the number of electoral districts to an odd number which will lessen the likelihood of a possible recurrence of a deadlocked result.”
He added when the THA was dissolved last November, very few anticipated what was on the horizon.
“What later transpired was constitutionally historical for Tobago and worked, ironically, in some sense, to spotlight the Tobagonian agenda of self-governance.
“The intervening two weeks since the election results have left the Tobago citizenry in an undesirable state of constitutional purgatory, awaiting either a legislative or executive resolution to the deadlock,” Rowley said.
In the current arrangement, the Prime Minister said the THA act makes provision for and directs the election of a presiding officer but it doesn’t cater for what may happen where elected Assemblymen are split evenly between two parties and neither side is prepared to yield ground to the other.
Despite three attempts a presiding officer hasn’t been appointed- nor a chief secretary or deputy secretary, minority leader or THA secretaries.
He said, “In the present situation with the current law in place, the separate pieces of legal advice which I have received indicate the Assembly cannot be properly constituted.”
He said it is necessary for the THA Act be amended with urgency, as the Bill proposes, not only to break the deadlock presently hindering the constitution of the Assembly “….But to almost certainly eliminate its reoccurrence,”
He added many other voices have also called for fresh elections.
“We have given due consideration to all the options and propose that this Bill is constitutionally sound and is the best solution,” he noted.
Kamla wrong – PM
The Prime Minister also struck down Opposition Leader Kamla Persad- Bissessar’s view there was no need for elections.
He said, she had advised a former prime minister, in a similar deadlock, that the President had no choice but to re-appoint the incumbent to the Office of Prime Minister.” ….We all know how that piece of bad advice worked out.”
He said her suggestion – for use of the mechanism in THA’s Section 92 – was contrary to constitutional advice Government received from Senior Counsel.
Rowley didn’t agree with voices suggesting the popular vote – which the incumbent PNM won – is the most democratic option.
He said, “This Government has acknowledged the circumstance of a party winning the popular vote but this Government isn’t blinded by political ambitions. This Government is guided by the law. Contrary to pleas and indignation there is simply no legislative provision which provides for this option of utilising the popular vote to determine who should lead THA.”