The second term of George Maxwell Richards, 82, the fourth President, ends on March 17, and Government yesterday announced that election of a new Head of State has been scheduled for Friday, February 15, with deadline for nominations being February 5.
As Speaker, Mark set these dates under the rules by which a President is elected by an Electoral College of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Although he is the current presiding officer of the Lower House, sources report Mark, 60, is the preferred choice of the People’s Partnership administration for demonstrating loyalty, fairness and transparency in the Parliament. Sources note he has made rulings for and against Government and the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) since his appointment in 2010.
A parliamentarian for 22 years, Mark has earned the respect of his peers on both sides of the House, even as he has served as a Cabinet Minister and Opposition Senator under the United National Congress (UNC) between 1995 and 2010.
Newsday understands Mark was even proposed by the UNC for the Presidency, when the PNM won the 2007 general election.
There is however a lobby in favour of Hudson-Phillips, 79, an eminent jurist who has been an elected member of Parliament (1966-1976) an attorney general (1969-1973) and judge of the International Criminal Court.
The outspoken Queen’s Counsel, in recent years, has raised concerns about corruption, transparency and ethics especially in the judicial and legal fraternity. He challenged the award by Government of senior counsel, or silk, titles to Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Justice Wendell Kangaloo, who subsequently returned the honours.
He also strongly criticised Law Association president Seenath Jairam SC’s acceptance of a Ministry of Finance brief in the Clico/HCU Commission of Inquiry after another senior counsel, Fyard Hosein had been fired. Jairam would later return the brief.
Lalla, 86, a past parliamentarian as an elected MP under the Democratic Labour Party between 1960 to 1971, is also said to be on the shortlist for the Presidency. He has been chairman of both the Public Service and Police Service Commissions.
Although nominations for the Presidency were not discussed at Cabinet yesterday, sources said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been actively engaging Ministers on suitable persons who could be proposed to the Electoral College, to be Head of State.
Newsday understands a former chief justice is also being considered as a nominees but that person’s identity was not revealed.
Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed yesterday declined to say who the Government’s nominee might by, when he announced the nomination and electoral dates for the Presidency at the post-Cabinet news briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), St Clair.
He was not drawn by media attempts to speculate on the identity of such. Newsday asked if Cabinet had discussed nominees Mohammed replied, “No. No discussions...No discussions.”
Asked if Cabinet had any plans to discuss nominees, he replied, “It will have to be discussed, I assume, but we have not made any plans.”
Pressed on if Government had a nominee in mind now, just a month ahead of the nomination deadline, Mohammed replied, “I am confident that it will be discussed at the level of the Cabinet. It would be premature of me to suggest any name or names at this time, but know for sure it will be discussed at the Cabinet.”
Newsday asked if he would personally recommend a person of a legal background to be President, but Mohammed offered no opinion simply laughing off the query with a joke. In his earlier announcement, Mohammed spelt out the formalities of the process of electing a new President. He said the Constitution says the President is elected by an Electoral College of assembled Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“The Electoral College is convened by the Speaker of the House and its procedure is governed by the Electoral College Regulations (1976) made under section 28(4) of the Constitution,” said Mohammed.
“In accordance with section 26 (4) of the Constitution, which provides that an election for President shall be held not more than 60 days nor less than 30 days before the expiration of the term of that office, an election for President must be held no sooner than January 17, 2013 and no later than February 18, 2013.”
Mohammed said the Speaker is responsible for conducting the election.
“An announcement of the date of the election for President must be made by the Speaker in the (TT) Gazette not less than 21 days or more than 30 days in advance of the selected day. Thereafter, the Speaker is required to inform members by letter of the meeting of the Electoral College,” he said.
“In light of the above, the Speaker has recommended to the Prime Minister and Cabinet has duly noted that Friday 15th of February, 2013 is the date selected by the Speaker of the House for the convening of a meeting of the Electoral College for the purpose of the election of a President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
“In the circumstances and in accordance with section 30 of the Constitution, the deadline date for nomination is Tuesday 5th of February 2013. This matter was discussed and noted by the Cabinet at its meeting today (yesterday),” Mohammed said.