The Political Leader of the Movement for Social Justice on the election of a new President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago David Abdulahsaid the election of the President of the Republic requires eternal vigilance by all citizens.
The following is the full statement issued by MSJ Leader David Abdullah in which he highlights some of the critical roles the President plays:
In the coming weeks, while the nation's attention is focused on carnival a very important decision will be made by the Government - that is who will become the next President of the Republic.
Given our Constitution, two important facts must be borne in mind.
Government has final vote
Firstly, although the President is "elected" by the electoral college of the entire Parliament (House and Senate), given the fact that the government controls the majority in the House (the Senate is almost equally divided - 16 Government Senators of which one is the Senate President, 9 Independent Senators and 6 Opposition Senators), the government’s decision as to who should be President ultimately carries the vote.
Secondly, our President is not just a ceremonial President or a rubber stamp of decisions by the Cabinet as some commentators have been suggesting.
He has the constitutional power to appoint the Chief Justice; key Commissions such as the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, which in turn appoints Judges and other key judicial officers (the Director of Public Prosecutions, Registrar General, Solicitor General, Chief Parliamentary Counsel and Chief State Solicitor - these being subject to Prime Ministerial veto); the Public, Police and Teaching
Services Commissions; the Ombudsman.
All of these appointments by the President are done "after consultation with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition”.
This means that the President is NOT bound by the views of these two political leaders in the appointment of the Chief Justice, the Service Commissions, the Elections and Boundaries Commission and the Ombudsman. This gives the President a certain amount of Executive power in his/her own right.
The President also appoints, in his own judgment nine Independent Senators, which Senators hold the balance of power in the Senate on key votes (i.e. on votes which require a special majority of the Senate).
Additionally, as our own practice has shown, the President can also make some crucial decisions - for example, President Clarke chose George Chambers as Prime Minister on the death of Eric Williams; President Robinson chose Patrick Manning as Prime Minister over Basdeo Panday who was the sitting Prime Minister; and President Richards has exercised his authority under Section 81 of the Constitution to get answers from the Prime Minister about the Section 34 issue.
The President also sets the tone for the country and by his/her statements can point the government and citizens towards a better nation. Who then becomes the next President is of great importance to T&T and to all citizens!
Government’s track record
Given the propensity of the Peoples Partnership (PP) government to make very flawed decisions based on extremely poor judgment (e.g. the Reshmi affair, the selective and surreptitious proclamation of Section 34, various Board appointments) and its resulting horrific track record of bad governance - which the government tries to pass off as mis-steps from which we should 'move on' - we need to pay attention, carnival or not, to this decision.
Many things can be put in place by a President chosen because of loyalty to party. That has been the key criteria used by the PP to choose state boards and to make many important ambassadorial appointments (Washington, UN,Canada, London etc).
It is the reason for the Reshmi appointment and to others in the security sector, and to the Central Bank governorship. A President loyal to party can, given his/her constitutional power, entrench PP loyalists in key positions in the state institutions.
This is what the Peoples National Movement (PNM) did in the past. But two wrongs do not make a right and citizens in May 2010 by rejecting the PNM were signaling very clearly that we wanted new governance and not the governance of using office to entrench supporters in the state structure.
In the absence of constitutional reform, we have to live with the fact that the choice of President is in effect the decision of the government.
COP’s role crucial
However, in the context of the present political coalition the Congress of the People (COP) can have a crucial role in the choice of the President. If the COP does not agree with the choice of the United National Congress (UNC) cabal then it can - with its theoretical numbers in the House (6 MP’s) and Senate (3 Senators) - stymie the
If we are saddled with a terrible choice of President then it may ultimately be the result of the COP's weakness being manifest yet again! The Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) can also tip the balance as well.
So the issue of the election of the next President must be seen as another crucial examination of the governance of the PP government.
Will party loyalty trump once again the commitments made in the Fyzabad Declaration and Manifesto, which commitments include to“make choices based on merit in carrying out public business, including making public appointments”and to“not politicize the civil service, commissions or state enterprises”.
Citizens should make their voices heard on this issue! The MSJ’s position is that the Preamble to our Constitution should be the guide –“advancement should be on the basis of recognition of merit, ability and integrity”.
We shall assess the PP on this issue of their choice of President following the nomination process which deadline ends on February 5th.
Movement for Social