Friday, August 29, 2014


So,  continuing where I left off yesterday, let's start with the first Objection:

This is undemocratic because it is unfair to the candidate that came first.
This argument shows a fundamental misconception of what an election "race" is all about. In fact, to call it a "race" is somewhat of a misnomer. An election is really about choices. Who are we going to choose to represent us for the next five years? It isn't a race like a bicycle or swimming race where the winner is the guy or gal who comes in first ahead of the pack. It is about who will represent the people of the particular constituency. This proposal (now law) effectively gives the electorate the chance to choose more democratically. For example, you have A, B and C to choose between. A and B get 45 and 40 percent of the vote respectively. C ends up with a paltry 15 percent. So, A and B go to a run-off. The voter now can decide 'well, I preferred C, but if I have to choose only between the first two I will choose B over A' or vice versa. What is undemocratic about that? If A wants to hold on to his lead then he will have to ensure that he gets C's supporters to vote for him. What is wrong with that?

It's unfair to third Parties because they will be automatically excluded in the run off election.
Sounds good, doesn't it? I mean, shouldn't everybody get an equal "bite at the cherry"? But on a closer examination one realizes that it really doesn't stand up to the light of day. Before I answer this let me just say that last night the Senate changed this particular provision by saying that if a candidate gets at least 25 percent of the popular vote, he/she can be in the run-off.  Now, back to the question: the answer is that everybody is getting an equal "bite at the cherry". But third Parties are now going to have to be more than just spoilers in the game. For example, in 2001 Mr. Ramesh Maharajh formed a Party which effectively caused Mr. Panday's UNC to lose that 18/18 tie. Mr. Maharajh's candidate in that election in Tunapuna polled a few hundred votes and the PNM candidate was able to squeak in with a very bare majority. Most political observers concede that had it not been for that third Party candidacy that the seat would have gone to the UNC instead of the PNM. And to add insult to injury that third Party candidate lost his deposit! Put another way, third Parties now are going to have to step up to the plate with real support or get out of the way. What could be wrong with that? How is this unfair to somebody who, at the end of the day, clearly doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of surviving and winning?

In fact, this proposal can effectively give third Parties greater influence in that the two major Parties will (if they are smart) have to be very cognizant of a third Party's policies and proposals because if there is a run-off the leadership of the particular third Party can urge its supporters to support either Party A or Party B as the case may be. In other words, the leadership of all the Parties (both major as well as minor) are going to have to be more careful in that they are going to have to articulate their policies more clearly, and the subliminal messages from the UNC and the PNM (vote for us because we are Indian/African) are going to have to become even more subliminal if the ONR/NAR/COP supporters (who still exist ... they just have no "home" at the moment) are going to be attracted to one side or the other is going to get their votes. (These voters are by and large not motivated by racial voting and do in fact cause the outcome in several marginal constituencies).

There is the very good chance that in a run-off not everybody who voted in the first round will vote in the second round; in other words, there is a very good chance that the eventual winner will get less than 50 percent of the votes cast in the first round.
Well, duh!!! Of course that can happen! But this argument ignores the fact that voting is not compulsory. It is a right that is available to every adult citizen. A citizen can choose to exercise or not exercise his right. But he can't complain about any result if he chooses not to exercise his right to vote. What do you expect will happen if you don't vote? It is either that the principle that every single vote is important is a good principle and is correct, or it's not! So, somebody who voted in round one can say "I ain't votin' 'cause I vex' " or he goes out to vote on the basis of the choice that is now available. But don't complain! And the result will be determined by the people who do exercise their franchise! Full stop! Punto finale! Indeed, less than 50 percent of the electorate can refuse to turn out in the first round! You can "play" the numbers game till the cows come home, but the principle that an elected representative should at least have 50 percent of the votes of those who have bothered to turn out is a good one.

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.
Again, this sounds good at first blush. We even had one of the Commissioners appointed to the Constitution Commission (Ms. Merle Hodge) saying that this was never considered or discussed. To which I would reply, well, first of all, how much time do you think you will need? What are your concerns? The ones that I have articulated? Or are there others? If so, what exactly, and in one sentence for each(because if you can't define it in one sentence you can't define it at all), can you define the other concerns?
Secondly, if this wasn't discussed at all, then how come it was in the addendum that was submitted by the Constitution Commission that Ms. Hodge signed that was submitted on 18th July, 2014? Why did Ms. Hodge sign the addendum? Why didn't she submit a minority report? Did she read what she was signing? Did she even understand it? Or did she only understand it when the PNM began objecting to it? And if it was in the addendum, surely this suggests that it was discussed at some time by the Commission?

That a run-off could leave the country in a political limbo for two weeks, which is an unacceptably long time.
To which the short answer is "bull piffle', Good grief! Don't those who are putting this up as an argument understand the Constitution? It is  unarguable that the results of any election  should be determined as quickly as possible. But even in the best regulated democracies there can be delays. For example, in 2001 then President Robinson took two long weeks to resolve the 18-18 tie (which he eventually did wrongly and unconstitutionally ... but that is another story). And nobody complained then! Why? Because Robinson eventually decided in favour of Manning?  Or this wasn't a concern? In the great United States in the presidential election of 2002 it took more than a month before the Supreme Court finally ruled in favour of George Bush (and, yes, I am very aware that the American Constitution is different from ours). In our Constitution there are provisions that keep a Prime Minister in office even after an election until the President appoints a new one. Now, tell me: what can a Prime Minister do who is awaiting a run-off in a particular constituency in the 15 days between the election and the run-off? Do you really think that he/she would be so reckless as to try and empty the Treasury in that time believing that he/she will eventually lose? Do you not think that any Prime Minister coming in after such a situation will not look to hang his/her predecessor as soon as he/she takes office? Come on!  Mr. Panday has been accused of all sorts of crimes and other misdeeds, but not even his worst detractors accused him of taking advantage of that 2001 18-18 delay to do any corrupt act!

The real reason
No. The real reason, which neither side has articulated but it remains like the proverbial elephant in the room, is because the PNM has quite rightly concluded that this run-off provision is a dagger aimed at their electoral heart. The evidence tends to suggest that the support for the UNC tends to split while the support for the PNM tends to stay solid. Put another way, the combined votes of those opposed to the PNM have frequently exceeded those cast for the PNM.  In other words, a majority of third Party voters are non-African or better educated and do not vote according to ethnicity and would prefer to vote for the UNC rather than the PNM where the only choice is between the two Parties. Where there is a third (or fourth) choice the UNC support will sooner hive off in favour of a third Party before the PNM's support does. Put another way, the PNM believes that they will lose elections more often than they will win when there is a run-off ... unless they bring about fundamental changes inside the Party .... which they clearly don't want to do.  And that, my friends, is really what it is all about!!

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