Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Commentary: Penny can be Opposition Leader in present parliament

Faris-al-Rawi's statement that Penny Beckles cannot be the Leader of the Opposition in the present parliament is misleading and wrong.

I can understand why he wants to send that message to the membership of the People's National Movement (PNM). Al-Rawi, who is supporting Keith Rowley in the PNM's May 18 internal election, is right when he states that it is better for the same person to hold both positions. 

Rowley holds both positions of party leader and the Leader of the Opposition.

If Penny wins the election and replaces Rowley as PNM leader she cannot be Leader of the Opposition under the present arrangements because she is not a Member of Parliament like Rowley. Even if she appoints herself a Senator she cannot hold that post, which is reserved for an elected representative.

But there is a constitutional way for Penny to hold both posts.

Here's how. Once she is declared leader of the party she can ask one of the current members of the party to resign from a safe seat she or he holds. Once that resignation comes before June 18th, 2014 and the Speaker declares the seat vacant before that date the constitution allows for a bye election to be held.

Section 69:3 of the constitution states: "Where a vacancy occurs in the House of Representatives within the first four years of the life of the Parliament a bye-election shall be held to fill such vacancy not later than ninety days  from the date of the announcement by the Speaker of the vacancy."

The Parliament was convened on June 18, 2010, which means there is a small window of opportunity for that electoral change to take place. The PNM election result would be known on the same date of the election - May 18. So there would a month to massage the system to create a vacancy and force the 
bye-election that she would win.

It would be an immediate test of her leadership to determine whether the party would rally behind the new leader. 

If no MP agrees to quit to make room for her, it would weaken her hold of the party and demonstrate that the lame duck leader, Rowley, still has clout within the party.
When Winston Dookeran was elected leader of the UNC he was an MP and all that was needed was for Basdeo Panday to step aside and let Winston take over the leadership. But Panday refused and that led the political fallout that caused the formation of the Congress of the People (COP) and the subsequent victory by the PNM in the 2007 general election with a minority vote.

If Penny wins, the party would be wise to allow her to get elected and take her rightful place for the rest of the the 10th parliament. 

But will the PNM go there?

That's left to be seen. There is precedent for this in democracies that function within the rules of the Westminster system as we do in T&T.

In the UK, Lord Home (Alex Douglas Home), gave up his seat in the House of Lords, fought a seat vacated by a member of the Conservative party, won a bye-election and took over the leadership of the party in 1963.

In Canada, Jean Chretien came out of retirement and won the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1993. He immediately asked an MP in a safe seat in New Brunswick to quit and force a bye-election. Chretien won, took up his seat in Parliament as Opposition Leader and won a landslide in the general election that followed.

In Newfoundland, Clyde Wells led his Liberal party to a convincing victory but lost his seat. One of the Liberal legislators quit and allowed the leader to run in a bye-election and become premier.

Al-Rawi's false propaganda is understandable. But the truth that the PNM should know is that Penny can be both leader of the party and leader of the opposition.

If she wins on May 18, the smartest move for the PNM would be to get her into Parliament for the final year to let her show that she is a leader both inside and outside of Parliament.

If it doesn't happen, the PNM risks a fracture that could cause the kind of damage that we saw in the opposition in 2007 where the COP and UNC together won 55 per cent of the popular vote but Patrick Manning and the PNM won 26 of the 41 seats with just 45 per cent of the vote.

Jai Parasram - 05 February 2014

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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