While the THA elections result continues to generate debate, University of the West Indies (UWI) political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath is recommending an amendment to the THA Act and another round of elections to break the current stalemate.
In the 2017 THA elections, the PNM had won ten seats while the PDP won two seats. In last Monday’s elections, the PNM lost six of those seats to the PDP. The parties ended with a tie—six seats for the PNM and six for the PDP.
“The Government should draft an amendment to the THA Act which should be taken to the Parliament and have the Parliament review and amend the capacity for the holding of an election, therefore allowing the THA to go back to the polls,” he told the Sunday Guardian.
In a media release on Friday, the PNM Tobago Council said that the THA Act has a fundamental defect and all stakeholders must be included for solutions including the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) and Parliament.
Ragoonath agreed that these important institutions must play a key role in looking for solutions.
“In the context of the EBC, a request should be made by the Government or the THA to revisit the electoral boundaries of the electoral districts of Tobago to try to bring them to an uneven number. That is probably the only thing that they can do.”
As for the Parliament, he said it was the primary institution that could resolve this impasse as Parliament makes the law.
“There is the Tobago House of Assembly Act 40 of 1996 and what is required then is for an amendment of the act and to go back to Parliament and for Parliament to approve it. That amendment would have to include several things such as in the event of a tie then it would reach back down to the President for a new election to be called. “As it stands right now, a new election can only be called by resolutions by the Assembly. If the Assembly cannot appoint a Presiding Officer then there is no other solution according to the current act.”
When asked how practical the PDP’s proposal of the flipping of a coin was in breaking the tie, he said the drawing of lots has precedence in Trinidad’s local government elections.
“What Farley Augustine, PDP Deputy Leader proposed was the drawing of lots; that remedy has been used in Trinidad when we had ties in local government. The ‘drawing of lots’ could mean the flipping of a coin or putting names on a piece of paper and putting it in a bowl and drawing it. In other words, it is a chance.”
He added that if the PDP takes the matter to court and the court decides that drawing of lots could be the way to go, then all sides would have to abide.
On the issue of voter turnout, Ragoonath said that the PNM has not been able to increase their showing at the polls over the last two elections—the general election and the THA elections.
“What we have seen is the PDP being able to encourage a lot more people to come out and vote which is what happened. Hence we saw the higher voter turnout in several of the PDP areas.”
Ragoonath said the PDP has inherited the legacy of the Democratic Action Congress (DAC), founded by former prime minister Arthur NR Robinson in 1971.
He said he was not surprised at the PDP’s final results.
“Over the last two weeks based on the campaign and what was happening the PDP was gaining momentum. Clearly, their momentum brought them to that stage where they got that result. I was not too sure how far they would go, but I know that they would have gotten more than three seats and they ended up with six.”
Maharaj: They have a right to take their grievance to the court
Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj believes that the PDP has the right to take their grievance over the hung THA elections to court.
The PDP has said that the controversy over the six-six tie with the PNM in the THA elections last week will be heading to court to determine how the current THA Act will be interpreted.
“Anybody would be entitled to go to court if they are not happy with whatever is being done,” Maharaj said.
He served as attorney general in the UNC administration that passed the Tobago House of Assembly Act in 1996.
“As attorney general at the time, who was involved in drafting the legislation, I consider it a duty to the public to explain to the country what occurred. In the consultation at the time, there were sections of the population in Tobago that wanted a House with 12 seats. This bill was debated in Parliament so the opposition and independent senators had an opportunity to be able to challenge whether it should be an odd number or even number and the Parliament approved an even number.”
Maharaj promised that over the next few days he will hold a media conference via Zoom where he would give more details as to the origin of the THA Act and the solutions he recommends to the problem.