Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Consensus President - the Hamid Ghany commentary

President Carmona inspects a guard of honour 
The inauguration speech delivered by President Anthony Carmona last Monday has left many people offering congratulations for the issues that he raised and the manner in which he raised them. 

He made it abundantly clear that he is not an executive President, however, he will exercise those powers that he has in a way that will give great effect to his actions. In other words, he will not be a pushover for anybody and no side can expect any special favours from him.

His reference to Section 81 of the Constitution came in the shadow of the controversy that arose last December. While some felt that he was referring directly to the controversy itself, others felt that he was calming the waters that surrounded the presidency over the issue of how far the President can go to get information without challenging Section 75 that deals with collective responsibility. 

In a sense, he was linking his non-executive status to the information to which he is entitled. This particular section of the Constitution was honoured more in the breach than in its proper intent by the first prime minister Dr Eric Williams. 

In my conversations with Ellis Clarke he had told me that Section 81 was not observed by Eric Williams who would ignore him for long periods and not speak to him depending on his mood.

This has also been substantiated by my academic colleague, Selwyn Ryan, writing in the Express for January 8, 2011, as follows:

"Clarke and Williams later fell out, and Clarke was virtually quarantined by Williams. He and Robinson also clashed sharply in 1986 following the NAR’s victory. He and Robinson disagreed as to whose responsibility it was to make certain ‘midnight’ appointments. 

"During the most recent constitutional deliberations, Clarke deemed the 1976 constitution ‘very defective’ in that two people exercised plenary power to appoint as he had forewarned. 

"To quote him, ‘under our constitution, there are two people who exercise power: the Prime Minister and the President. The Prime Minister exercises full power. There is no check and balance on the part of the President. The President doesn’t exercise any check and balance over the Prime Minister. On the other hand, the President has power of appointment. The Prime Minister can exercise no restraint on those powers, so its confused in the minds of the public...’”

It was interesting that President Carmona chose to raise the Section 81 issue because the inception of the presidency saw a political culture emerge whereby the first prime minister started the tradition of ignoring the President under Section 81 but that the situation has improved considerably from those early days.

The reality is that the President has powers that he can exercise that many people are not aware of and there are powers that he cannot exercise that many people imagine he can. His comment about the powers that he has and does not have was most apt and demonstrates that he already has an insight into his office.

There is already one signal that has been sent that will undoubtedly cause him alarm. His protocol staff failed him by demonstrating the use of cut-and-paste shortcuts with no originality when they omitted the Leader of the Opposition from the protocol listing for salutations.

The fact that the President had to apologise to Dr Rowley and his wife on his first day in office was an embarrassment that he did not have to suffer. The population will be prepared to dismiss this as a genuine mistake of inefficiency and nothing sinister. He must therefore carefully assess appointments to his staff.

The presidency now seems to be heading in a direction of greater consensus which is a good sign. 

The process by which President Carmona was selected demonstrated high levels of consensus when compared to the past. His speech had something for everyone and was the kind of speech that could inspire people to trust the office of President. There has been a shift in public opinion away from domination and control towards a desire to seek consensual and non-partisan solutions to social issues and problems.

The emergence of this growing trend among many people who only want peace and happiness in their lives was captured in the President’s address. However, the deeper issue is whether the political parties in the society can respond to what a third wave of opinion seems to be seeking.

Political partisanship does not have to include political hegemony, but could include a desire to share political power. The PNM, the UNC, the COP and the TOP have all had to face this reality. 

The latter three are currently in a coalition, but there are some pressures that still exist for single-party domination and going it alone which are products of what the existing political system has produced as part of our political culture. The PNM has traditionally upheld the view that “great is the PNM and it shall prevail.”

Is the consensus presidency that emerged last week a sign of changing trends in the society?

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai