January 29, 2001 By Keith Smith

Your move, Mr President

Mr Maharaj has more than a point. Mr Robinson in his amazing address insisted, in that he said it more than once, that he was open to rational argument. Several arguments have been presented to him. Some, informally, via the various strands of the media. Some, formally, by the government side and crucially, one, by his presidential peers and, perhaps, the present dean of lawyers.

Mr Robinson does not have to agree with any of their arguments. But he has a responsibility to tell us where he disagrees with them. He started the current, easily the most crucial, Constitution conversation. He must now carry it along to its next stage which is to answer the arguments that have been arrayed against him.

Win or lose the country will remain in debt to him for the national look within that his actions has generated. So it is not even a question of winning or losing. It is a question of concluding this section of the discussion and move on to the next, that being what, if anything has to be done to the constitution, or how do we want power to be distributed here, what do we, the people want to concede and what controls do we want to exercise by means of weights and balances.

Ah mean, we just cyar stay on the same spot forever and Mr Maharaj is right it is Mr Robinson that now has to move. If he doesnít he will rightly be seen to be bent on having his own way, not really on the basis of considered opinion, but on the basis of petulant intransigence.

I think I need to be cautious here to the point of repetition. It is not that I am asking the President to surrender. It is that he must now make us wise to why he does not feel he has to reconsider. Having received a range of arguments does he not consider them rational and if so why not.

Does he still believe that, under the constitution, he has the power to prevent Mr Panday from using his losing senators in his administrationís cause? Not whether he believes Mr Pandayís push is meet or good. But whether the Constitution makes him, as president, arbiter in this regard?

The point has been pounced open by the people, some for, some against, some with half a foot in both camps and one foot fidgeting to get the other out. Cerebral confusion is, perhaps, the perquisite to clarity.

Mr Robinson must be careful that he does not let pride overwhelm him. That he does not allow himself, like he warned us, to be egged on by emotion and see this as a battle between himself and the Prime Minister, whatever hostilities their mutual careers may have engendered. For him to do so would be for him to demean the great enterprise on which he has set the ship of state. Whatever he does it will not founder but in the twilight of his career he might want to go out with sails billowing.

Whatever his chagrin at Mr Pandayís latest speech, let the record show that he continues to exercise political restraint. Whatever his critics might have feared, the fact is that the Prime Minister has not seen the present impasse as permission to mash up the place. Robber talk, perhaps rabid even, but words that ducked below the nationís back, neither sticks nor stones, even the loudest of the UNC treading carefully.

The trick, really, is to make the most of this tide and, for the precise moment, Mr Robinson is at the helm. Mr Maharaj has given time to tack. Space in which to carry the conversation forward. Listening to him, I thought that he was hoping that Mr Robinson would see reason behind the proffered reasonings and make a tack-back. That will allow Mr Panday to win on points, yes, but also to be rendered weaker, though not irrevocably so, our fifth Prime Ministerís stature both now and later dependent on whether at this point in the nationís history he can find it within himself to reverse his own history. To rein in the instincts of a political lifetime.

But that is anticipating the story.

As more citizens than ever continue to add to the autobiography of the now Mr Robinson, this round must either make us see how the government has not won on points or be seen to be setting himself up for the knockout punch.

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