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Raffique Shah


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Donkey with a kick

By Raffique Shah
September 15, 2013

When House Speaker Wade Mark invoked the contentious constitutional provision that an elected MP, Herbert Volney in this instance, must vacate his seat upon resigning or being expelled from the party on whose slate he was elected to Parliament, it piqued my interest. You see, I was a principal player in the events that led to the passage of that amendment to the Constitution in 1978, and I am intimate with its genesis.

Let me say up front that Volney, who has an exaggerated sense of self-importance, cannot win a fig on his own steam, far less an election. But it was the Prime Minister and her top aides, who paraded Volney like a prized donkey during the 2010 elections campaign inflating his ego well beyond his girth.

My only knowledge of the man prior to that was when, as a judge, he made a most astonishing ruling in the Brad Boyce case. I formed an opinion of him then that I will take to my grave, and even when that time comes, I will not be caught dead lying next to him, far worse sitting alive alongside him.

I leave that matter of conscience to those who fraternised with him.

I must say I was surprised that the Prime Minister decided to pursue the Volney issue through the dubious “crossing the floor” provision. There are many reasons why she should have avoided that option. As a runaway MP, Volney posed no threat to her Government. He has no charisma. If anything, the man is politically unattractive.

Neither the People's National Movement (PNM) nor the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) will field him as a candidate in a bye-election.

However, the PM has given the donkey a kick by booting him out of Parliament. He can now trigger a bye-election, which is the last thing the United National Congress (UNC) needs at this time. Having lost the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections disastrously in January and the Chaguanas West bye-election in July, surely the PM can use a respite from political blows.

Because, make no mistake about it, the UNC and the Congress of the People (COP) will lose big in the local government elections. They will be lucky to retain their core regional corporations and boroughs—meaning Couva/Tabaquite, Princes Town, Penal/Debe, Siparia and Chaguanas. The Jack-factor comes into play: can Warner muster sufficient support to wrest enough electoral districts to disturb or unseat the UNC/COP? I argue that except for the Borough of Chaguanas, I do not see him winning control of the others.

However, the UNC/COP axis seems to have a penchant for making unforced errors, as is happening with Volney and the St Joseph seat. So one never knows what that bungling lot will do to boost Jack's stocks. I think he stands a more than even chance of winning Chaguanas.

The UNC/PP will lose Diego Martin, Tunapuna and San Fernando, and possibly Sangre Grande and Rio Claro, to the PNM.

To add the risk of suffering yet another defeat to this grim picture, a bye-election in St Joseph that could be forced before the end of the year is stupid. Again, I see the PNM winning this marginal constituency, quite easily this time, with the UNC and the ILP splitting the non-PNM votes. The year 2013 could well be annus horribilis for the Prime Minister.

When, in 1995, Rupert Griffith and Vincent Lasse jumped the PNM ship and joined the UNC in Government to enhance its razor-thin majority, the PM will have been among senior ministers who embraced them warmly.

She cannot now say she was not the leader when Griffith and Lasse delivered two PNM seats to the UNC, which they failed to win in subsequent elections.

This manipulation of the relevant constitutional provision, and the fact that political parties in this country have fragile structures in which leaders and cabals wield inordinate power, were reasons why my colleagues and I voted against the Bill back in 1978. Basdeo Panday, Nizam Mohammed and Kelvin Ramnath supported the PNM-sponsored legislation, which went on to become a toothless law.

I should add that we did not just oppose the proposal to remove an elected MP before the expiration of his term. We promoted the institution of the “right to recall”, in which dissatisfied constituents, through the EBC, could force an MP to face fresh elections at any time. In other words, the people, not the party, must be the final arbiters. That is the essence of democracy.

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