|File: Basdeo Panday - quote from 1989|
The former prime minister and founding leader of the United National Congress (UNC) was speaking on a political panel hosted by Dr Hamid Ghany on CNC3 television.
Panday said the whole electoral system is flawed and allows a few people to have access to the state's resources to do as they please. He said it doesn't matter who is in government because the system is severely flawed.
He noted that whoever forms the government becomes a "wild horse" and pays scant attention to the needs of the people while engaging in patronage. Panday said in theory the system is supposed to allow the parliament to keep the executive in check. However he said this cannot happen since the parliament is controlled by the same people it is supposed to police.
The former PM stated that the way out of this problem is to have radical constitutional change and suggested that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar could move in that direction and leave a legacy that would identify her as the leader who gave greater power to the people.
Persad-Bissessar has promised constitutional change and has already taken a bold step by introducing a form of proportional representation in the local government system that allows aldermen to be elected on the basis of votes cast in the election. She has also promised legislation for the recall of parliamentarians.
She created history earlier this year when she exercised her right to expel the MP for St Joseph by invoking the crossing the floor act. Herbert Volney had resigned from the party on whose ticket he won the election in St Joseph in 2010 and the PM used that against him to have the seat declared vacant. The PNM won the seat on Monday.
Panday said Persad-Bissessar must now go further and introduce greater constitutional changes, including proportional representation. He said that such a system would include the greatest level of participation in the governing of the country by giving a voice to those who are traditionally left out in the present system that is biased to a two-party system.
Trinidad and Tobago spawns political parties, many of which never make it to a second election. The PNM and the UNC are the only ones that have survived both inside and out of government. The UNC, which is now 25 years old, is the newest incarnation of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) of 1956 that changed to the Democratic Labour Party, which was later consumed by Panday's United Labour Front in 1976.
The ULF became a part of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) that removed the PNM from office after 30 unbroken years in office but the NAR did not survive. The remnants of the ULF regrouped and formed CLUB 88 that became the UNC in 1989. The party first entered government in a coalition with the NAR in 1995.
Persad-Bissessar won the leadership of the UNC in 2010, formed a coalition of interest with other like-minded groups and won the election on May 24, 2010 with a pledge to introduce constitutional reform.That process is at an advanced stage. A constitutional committee headed by Congress of the People leader Prakash Ramadhar has completed a comprehensive round of sittings hearing the public's views and it will soon present a draft report to the Prime Minister.
Panday participated in the public sessions and made a strong appeal for proportional representation to be introduced to replace the current first past the post system.