Thursday, August 28, 2014


I had not intended to write at all about the latest 'brouhaha' making the political rounds ... the contraversial run-off proposals currently being debated in the Senate. Frankly, I considered the arguments against the proposals a bunch of "bull piffle" and accordingly had decided to obey the injuction of Mark Twain who said something to the effect that one should never get into an argument with a fool; he will only drag you down to his level and then beat you with his experience.

But such confusion has been created by the "piffle" of the Bills' detractors that I have been besieged with requests to try and expain it. Indeed, the requests are probably best summed up by one reader who wrote me an email this morning which is typical of the requests that I have been recieving. He said:

          "Robin, could somebody who is above average intelligence (like yourself), relatively impartial
           (lol- like yourself),describe the pros and cons of the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill?
           I realise that I probably do not fall into either category, but do not understand the
           ramifications. Please enlighten us all."

So hear goes: first of all, there is the criticism that the amendments require a special majority ... which is a two thirds majority ... in both Houses of Parliament. This is simply not true. A simple majority (one vote) can amend any part of the Constitution that does not affect the fundamental rights of the citizenry (which rights are set out in Section 4 of the Constitution and include things like freedom of the Press and the right to join political parties and to express political views, etc.). The proposed amendments do not infringe any of our fundamental rights. A simple majority is really all that is required to pass the Bill.

There are three things that the Bill proposes to change: the first is a proposal that no Prime Minister should serve a total of more than two full terms. Nobody seems to have a problem with this so I 'll leave it alone. In any case, it is fairly clear.

The second proposal is really "a crock" and is effectively not enforcable. It proposes that in any time after the third year of his election an MP can be removed if more than 50 percent of the registered voters in a constituency petition for his withdrawal. The petition must be presented before the last year of a Parliamentary term. Now, the truth is that it will in practise be virtually impossible to get 50 percent of the registered electors in any constituency to sign such a petition. Put another way, it sounds good in theory but it simply will never work!

The third proposal is where the critics have been getting their "knickers in a twist" (as my English friends would say). The proposal is that if there are more than two candidates in any constituency and no one gets at least 50 percent of all of the votes cast, then there shall be a run off election two weeks later between the top two candidates only.

Critics of this proposal say that :
- this is undemocratic because it is unfair to the candidate that came first;
- it is unfair to third parties because they will be automatically excluded in the run off election;
- there is the very good chance that in a run off not everybody who voted the first time around will vote in the second round; therefore the possibilty exists that the eventual winner will get less than 50 percent of the votes cast in the first round;
- that there should have been public consultation before such an important and fundamental
  provision was brought in; there hasn't been enough time to consider it carefully;
- one of the members of the Constitution Commission has been reported as saying that there was no
   discussion on this in the Commission;
-  that a run-off could leave the government of the country in a political limbo for two weeks, which
   is an unacceptably long time.

And that, in a nutshell, are the criticisms. And the answers? Let's take them one by one ... tomorrow!

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