In a statement at the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister informed the nation that she would advise President Anthony Carmona, “to dissolve Parliament at midnight on Wednesday 17th June, 2015” - a move which will bring to an end the Tenth Parliament and clear the way for the Eleventh.
In announcing the date of the election, Persad-Bissessar said her Government was the first under the Republican Constitution to serve its full term. She said it did so despite the expectations of the Opposition.
“Mr Speaker the People’s Partnership Government is ready to return to the voters of Trinidad and Tobago,” the Prime Minister said in her 20-minute statement delivered at 2.30pm, moments before Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal invoked centuries of Westminster tradition and adjourned the House of Representatives sine die or with no fixed date.
Of the Opposition PNM, Persad-Bissessar said, “They told the electorate in 2010, 2011, 2012, in every year that we would not last more than a few weeks in government, then that became a few months, then it became a year and after that they continued to call for early elections on a regular basis because their political strategy to remove their leader in 2010 and seek to come to power because they expected us to collapse early failed to materialise. That strategy backfired. They got rid of their leader in 2010, but they could not get rid of us.” The Tenth Parliament sat a total of 199 times.
The Prime Minister’s Parliament announcement differed from what obtained in 2010, when then Prime Minister Patrick Manning announced the dissolution of the Ninth Parliament by way of a press release on April 8, 2010, with the date following in another press release on April 16, 2010.
Moments after the Prime Minister’s Parliament announcement there were scenes of jubilation and camaraderie between members of the Government and the Opposition gathered at the International Financial Centre, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain. Mps shook hands, hugged and kissed, made hi-fives and greeted each other with a cordiality that seemed completely at odds with the acrimony which characterised the Tenth Parliament.
After making her announcement, as she mingled with MPs in the chamber and paused for photographs, Persad-Bissessar was asked by media photographers to give a wave.
“We are coming back,” the Prime Minister said, smiling. “We are not saying goodbye.”
Absent from the proceedings were: suspended Opposition Leader and Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley, and San Fernando East MP and former Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, the longest-serving MP who will not be seeking re-election to the Eleventh Parliament.
The election date came as the UNC announced the close of nominations for persons seeking to be screened by the party to contest seats, with a deadline of June 26 set.
The party also announced the resumption of its Monday Night Forum with a rally at Rienzi Complex, Couva, next week.
All members of the Government - including senators - had gathered in the Parliament chamber for the 1.30 pm sitting, including Senators, many of whom came to lay the final papers they would be required to table for the term. In total, 101 papers were tabled in compliance with statutes and regulations for bodies ranging from the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago to the National Helicopter Services Limited.
Parliament. We were elected for five years. We have served faithfully and well in those five years. Some who were with us in the beginning are not here with us now. That is the nature of politics.
We have transformed the landscape of our country in five short years in a way that has not been seen for over fifty years. Mr. Speaker, we do believe one good term deserves another.
Mr Speaker, the Opposition has tried to create panic in the society by saying that if we hold a general election in September, it would be too late to have a national budget approved. Mr Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth.
In 2002, the then Prime Minister waited until August 28th to advise a dissolution of Parliament after he and his party failed to elect a Speaker of the House of Representatives on two occasions when they held the reins of power after the 18-18 tie. They could have dissolved the Parliament earlier and gone to the country, but they chose to wait. That is their right. Mr Speaker, the current Leader of the Opposition was a member of the Cabinet at that time and at no point did he or any member of that government ever lift a finger in public to argue about the time frame for the passing of a budget. So I want to make it abundantly clear that these spurious allegations and arguments - when they know that their government called a general election on Monday 7th October 2002 and opened the Parliament on 17th October 2002, and they went immediately into passing a Budget in both Houses before the deadline date of October 31, 2002.
If the result of that general election had gone another way, we would have been the ones to work with the same timelines to pass a budget.
Mr Speaker, we are nowhere near those timelines from 2002 and they should know better than to make such spurious arguments when there is more than adequate time to pass a budget if there is a general election in September.
Mr Speaker, the other Parliament in the history of Trinidad and Tobago — which was when we were under the monarchy prior to the Republican Constitution — the 1971-76 Parliament was the only other one that ever served out its full five-year term. We are the first under the Republican Constitution. This Parliament will become the second one to do so, in our parliamentary history, from the date on which it first met five years ago to the date on which it will be dissolved. Mr Speaker, it is uncanny. There are similarities with the 1971-76 Parliament insofar as the date of the general election in 1971 was 24th May and so too was the election date in 2010. In 1971, Parliament met on 18th June and so too did this Parliament first meet on 18th June in 2010.
There is however, one major difference between this Parliament and the 1971-76 Parliament. On the 18th of June, 1976, the House of Representatives held a sitting at which time they approved a number of amendments to Bills brought from the Senate and transacted other parliamentary business.
After that, there was a period of eighty-seven days between the dissolution at midnight on 18th June, 1976 and the holding of the general election on Monday 13th September, 1976. Mr Speaker, 1976 was a leap year so Monday 13 of September fell on a Monday.
Only the Member for San Fernando East in this Parliament was a Member of the House of Representatives in that 1976 Parliament and he would be aware of the sitting on that date.
Mr Speaker, my respectful view is that we should not be meeting on June 18th 2015 in spite of the precedent that was set in 1976. Accordingly, out of an abundance of caution — notwithstanding my respectful view that the law is through effluxion of time and in keeping with the Constitutional provisions the Parliament will stand dissolved at midnight on Wednesday June 17 — but given that there was a precedent that a Parliament sat after on the 18th June, out of an abundance of caution and to ensure that there is no ambiguity about the date on which this Parliament should end its term, I will advise His Excellency the President to dissolve Parliament at midnight on Wednesday 17th June, 2015.
Mr Speaker the people’s Partnership Government is ready to return to the voters of Trinidad and Tobago. We are ready because we are proud of our record of achievement. We are ready because the promises that we have kept to the voters of this country. And so Mr Speaker, I wish to advise that general elections in Trinidad and Tobago will be held on Monday, the 7th September, 2015.