The controversial Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 was passed in the House of Representatives during a marathon 15-hour debate which ended in the early hours of the morning on Tuesday, Aug. 12.
The bill now goes before the Senate for final approval.
Before the debate Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced she was going to allow government members to exercise a conscience vote on the bill.
In piloting the measure in the House of Representatives at the Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain on Monday, Persad-Bissessar said, “I want to indicate today that I am releasing all members of the Cabinet from the doctrine of collective responsibility on this matter.” The prime minister’s announcement came after the Congress of the People (one of the partners in the coalition People’s Partnership government), which has five MPs had expressed serious reservations about the bill.
Persad-Bissessar said that under the Westminster model when one breached the principle of collective responsibility of the Cabinet, one had to either resign or be fired.
There have been widespread criticisms of a provision in the bill where the government has proposed a run-off supplementary poll in the event a candidate fails to obtain more than 50 per cent of the votes cast.
When the vote was taken just after 3 a.m., two members of the COP, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran and Planning Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan voted against the bill. Another COP Minister Rodger Samuel abstained from voting.
When the count was taken by the Speaker of the House Wade Mark, 23 voted in favor of the amendment, 14 against and one abstention.
The PP government had held 26 seats in the 41-House Chamber, but that figure has been narrowed down to 23 with the resignations of three ministers over the past year.
The COP holds five seats; the Tobago Congress of the People (TOP) has two, while the United National Congress (UNC) holds 18.
The Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) has 13 seats, while the Independent Labor Party (ILP) has one seat.
COP leader Prakash Ramadhar had called for a delay on the vote and highlight the option of referring the legislation to a joint select committee of Parliament for further scrutiny.
Opposition parties are saying that the run-off legislation is designed to get rid of smaller political parties for next year’s general election.