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EXPEDIENCY OVER PRINCIPLE
“A Democratic Constitution is a body of basic rules by which the people of a country agree to govern themselves”—a statement of the Wooding Constitution draft adopted by the Hyatali Constitution Commission. We are into a period of time and specially an occasion (debate on the Constitution Amendment Bill) when political expediency triumphed over principle, process and a philosophy that advocates democratic participation by the electorate in creating the rules by which they live and are governed. Illustrative of the expediency practice are the decisions to support the Bill taken by three Independent Senators, by the firm position of Minister Lincoln Douglas who argued that when leaders do not provide for process and participation by the people “but insist on imposing their decisions, they do not organise the people. They manipulate the people.
They do not liberate the people, nor are they liberated. In a sense, they oppress the people.” Douglas was as strong on the importance of the process as were his two COP colleagues, Dookeran and Seepersad-Bachan; but then his “yes” vote was in total contradiction to that position. COP’s minister Bhoe Tewarie expressed the view that the process of constitution-making by the People’s National Movement has historically been flawed, anti-democratic and without the participation of half the society; so why the criticisms now that the UNC government was seeking to redress the imbalances of a previous era? Another COP minister, Rodger Samuel, adopted a quite curious position of abstaining from the vote.
It would be interesting to hear Pastor Samuel preach to his flock about taking a principled stance on the right or wrong of a matter. God’s men and women have been people committed to their convictions and not afraid to say a thing is right or wrong notwithstanding; he effectively ducked out on the issues of principle, process and democratic philosophy. COP political leader, Prakash Ramadhar paid little attention to the matter of process and his party’s own principled position on the constitution draft put forward by the Manning administration (2009): “If the process does not have legitimacy, the contents of the Constitution will never be accepted as being legitimate. And that is why I believe that this particular exercise (2014) in which we engage has not been completed in terms of its consultation.” Ramadhar’s one attempt to give some form of legitimacy to how the runoff measure was arrived at was to say that the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) did some of its own creation after reporting on what participants had to say. It was expediency over process and principled positions on democratic participation.
Usually, expediency and pragmatism find their way into discussions and decision-making in situations of dire need. Was there such a dire need “to make a start?” Most appropriately, did the need extend to the runoff proposal? Implementation of the right of recall, fixed date for elections and term limits for the leader has been well-discussed and called for amongst large numbers of the electorate. Implementation therefore of such measures as a means to “make a start,” and doing so with quality and long participation by people, if even they do not meet the requirement of “dire need,” qualifies as being of both practical and symbolic significance of doing something about constitution reform. The runoff measure does not qualify in that regard; and often in the debate there was a deliberate effort to make as if the runoff had gone through the consultative process.
Also contradictory of principled positions and actions was the horsetrading at the Committee stage of the debate. Such a practice is engaged to smoothen kinks in a bill on which there is no disagreement on fundamental principles. There was therefore quite an amount of contradiction on the part of those who had indicated strong concerns about the lack of process on the runoff measure while attempting to adapt it. Articulating such contradictions has nothing to do with seeking to interfere with the right of the Independents and the COP MPs to vote in whatever fashion they choose. But all MPs have a responsibility to the national community to be logical and principled in exercising their right. A vote in the Parliament belongs to the individual to exercise; but he/she must know and respect the right of the electorate to seek justification and consistency with positions adopted in a debate.
And that takes us to the point of how expediency adopted in this imposition of the runoff measure will influence further decisions in government and politics. Incidentally, it is recognised that the expedient path could have been for a range of reasons: not wanting to block the path of a government to enact legislation to serve the wider good; the need to make a start on constitution reform; to support legislation which may give a greater chance to this government to retain office at the polls; and to block a PNM that did not appoint “one Hindu in 30 years as a minister.” The issue is: will this most recent expression of expediency over principled positions and process become further entrenched in governance practice?
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