Groundwork for runoff poll set by Williams’ PNM

This is how historian Gerard Besson describes the proposed runoff poll provision in the People’s Partnership’s Constitutional Amendment Bill, due to be debated in the Upper House on Tuesday.

Besson argued, however, that the provision may be likened to measures that had been adopted by this country’s first prime minister Dr Eric Williams in the early days of the People’s National Movement (PNM) to ensure that the party maintained power.

“What is occuring now is a political move that may be compared to the gerrymandering of the PNM in the early years to secure a political victory,” Besson told Sunday Newsday on Friday.

Besson recalled that after the 1956 general election, Williams was forced to take note of the Party of Political Progress Groups (POPPG), which had won two seats when it first contested national elections in 1950.

He said although the POPPG , which comprised mostly local whites and persons with agricultural interests, lost its two seats after the 1956 general election, the party had garnered considerable support and later merged into the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).

Besson said Williams was surprised by the support the party had received.

“What amazed Williams was the extent to which the POPPG did so well after the 1956 election,” he said.

Besson claimed that Williams subsequently sought to alter the boundaries and constituencies in a way that isolated large groups of East Indians and allowed for a mixing of races.

“In the 1960s, nobody took that on. The DLP members howled and cried foul but the Indian politicians of the day weren’t so politically on their toes,” he said.

“What Williams did was a machination to ensure the winning of an election. So, what is happening today has a precedent in the 1960s.”

Besson said during that era, citizens appeared to be more concerned with what was happening in England as opposed to Williams’ attempts to re-arrange the boundaries in Trinidad and Tobago.

“People were oblivious. Even the media in those days were very conservative and almost had to look for some ‘weird angle’ to make a story,” he added.

Besson said although citizens today are more in touch with political issues “to deal with constitutional change and political upheavals,” they still are not encouraged to understand their political history.

“We seem to be more dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure and gaiety as opposed to our past,” he said.

Another historian, Michael Anthony, said categorically that the runoff provision of the Constitutional Amendment Bill was designed merely to keep the Government in power.

“What is in their minds is to kill off the smaller parties like the ILP (Independent Liberal Party) which might split their votes. It is as clear as that,” he said.

Saying he was vehemently opposed to the runoff, Anthony insisted there was no need for it.

“And if that is not put right, more than three quarters of the country will be bitter about it. It is not a fair means of keeping the People’s Partnership in power. There is no need for a runoff at all and I feel strongly about that,” he said. The runoff poll is contained in a package of legislation, which also includes two-term limits for prime ministers and the right to recall of non-performing Members of Parliament.

Meanwhile, lecturer Dr Jerome Teelucksingh laments that the majority of persons, who are either backing or protesting the legislation, do not appear to be fully apprised of its contents.

Teelucksingh told Sunday Newsday that many people were either ignorant or misinformed about the contents of the legislation.

“I have spoken recently to several people who have been gathering outside of the International Waterfront Complex and they told me that they were just asked to come, some through their party groups,” said Teelucksingh, lecturer in the Department of History at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies.

Their actions, he said, suggested that they have been relying heavily on political party meetings, either live or through media recordings, to get information. “They just listen to a few minutes of talking and then summarise in their minds what they feel the bill is about and are not fully aware of the details of the legislation and its impact on their lives,” Teelucksingh said, adding that many of them did not even know what a runoff poll meant.

Teelucksingh said the Parliament and media both have a responsibility to edify the population about legislation before the House, through newspaper pull-outs.

“This would ensure that the information is conveyed in an accurate manner. Far too often we operate like ‘zumbies’ because we are called out by some party group leader,” he said.


"Groundwork for runoff poll set by Williams’ PNM"

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