AKASH SAMAROO & SHASTRI BOODAN
Both a constitutional lawyer and a political analyst agree that the only legal and workable solution to the current deadlock in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is returning to the polls.
Constitutional law attorney, Martin George, says with both the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) getting six seats, it means there is no majority in the Assembly and as such, it will be difficult to elect a Presiding Officer or Chief Secretary if the members vote along party lines.
Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew, Mr George said power-sharing may not be a practical solution and it has failed in the past.
The attorney at law said the THA Act provides the solution to this issue—the dissolving of the newly elected Assembly, followed by a fresh election.
“All 12 of them can sit and say, ‘Look, we can get nowhere so let’s agree to dissolve the Assembly’. Other than that, the life of the Assembly runs for four years under the law. So, you must now have the dissolution, and once there is that dissolution of the Assembly, it then triggers the President’s power in that regard.”
According to Martin George, the law is clear. In this situation, Ancil Dennis does not remain Chief Secretary in the interim. This, he says, brings with it a conundrum, as the President usually consults with the Prime Minister and Chief Secretary before setting a new election date, and right now, one of those positions is vacant.
However, Mr George says the President also can make a decision without consultation.
“Even though the law requires that the President must consult with the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary to fix the election date, the fact that there is no Chief Secretary will not necessarily be a legal bar to that date being fixed,” the constitutional lawyer explains.
“At the end of the day, it is something that is still within the President’s independent control, after having consulted,” he says.
Meanwhile, like Martin George, political analyst Shane Mohammed points out the procedures to break the deadlock are to be found in the THA Act of 1996.
“Part 2 Section 5-11 of the act outlines the processes and procedures for the formation of a new Assembly,” Dr Mohammed explains. “Three days after the elections, the Assembly must meet, and all elected assemblymen must take the Oath of Office administered by the President.”
Speaking with Guardian Media at the Pigeon Point Heritage Park, he said in the 6-6 scenario, serious negotiations must take place between the PNM and the PDP in the interest of the people, to determine who will be the Presiding Officer.
“The Act is now pushing the Assembly to act in a mature manner,” he observes.
Dr Mohammed said the Assembly will nominate a Presiding Officer who does not come from the list of elected assemblymen, but an individual selected by the majority of assemblymen. The Presiding Officer is then given the Oath of Office by the President.
“However, if a Presiding Officer is not elected, this can trigger other THA elections. And an election for the Chief Secretary can then take place,” the political analyst points out.
He added: “In the event of a deadlock, the Presiding Officer has a vote during the second round of voting to determine who will be the Chief Secretary. The President cannot determine who is the new Chief Secretary, but only extend the office of the last sitting Chief Secretary—only if another election has to be called.”
Dr Mohammed said despite the PNM having a strong leader in the person of Dr Keith Rowley, the head of its Tobago Council of the PNM, Tracey Davidson-Celestine is a failed leader.
“She has failed to instil a sense of trust in the people of Tobago that saw four seats shifting to the PDP,” he argues.
He also notes that Farley Augustine, at a young age, has been able to unite with the Tobago Forwards and the TOP to generate a winning formula.