The PNM Manifesto 2015 begins: “In summary, we in the PNM envision a society where integrity and morality in public life is of the highest priority and the Government serves the public good above all else, and where decisions are made and actions taken by the Government in the best interest of all concerned.”
That statement comes to mind as we embark on the journey towards general elections 2020. It also reminds me that the 2015 elections represented a significant departure from the conventions that we have developed as a country.
Except for the election years of 2000, 2001 and 2002, governments have either called elections early or within ‘three months after every dissolution of Parliament’ as outlined in our Constitution. This was the practice before the PP Administration of 2010.
The PP’s natural term in office was from 18 June 2010 to 17 June 2015. Former Prime Minister Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar chose to take the elections down to the wire and hold it on 7 September, with just two days to go for the expiration of the three-month window.
Except for circumstances of war, it is clear that the framers of our constitution intended for the life of parliament to be five years (see sections 67, 68 & 69, Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago). The unprecedented extension of the life of parliament—on grounds that have not been shared with the population—communicated the guiding beliefs of an administration that epitomised the negative values that gave us the nickname ‘Trickydadians’.
On one occasion, former Prime Minister ANR Robinson said: ‘… streams into rivers and rivers into seas’ as a way of cautioning us about how small acts of indiscretion can escalate. What the PP government did was not illegal, but it broke a significant precedent in the way we conduct our political business.
One of the reasons 51.68% of the electorate voted for the PNM on Monday 7 September 2015, was their belief in the promises of the manifesto. To live up to those promises, it is necessary for Dr Rowley to dissolve parliament at midnight on 6 September 2020 and announce the date for the general elections. Here is an opportunity for him to demonstrate his commitment to doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
The time has come for us to standardise the date for general elections, which I am suggesting should be the fourth Monday in September. If this is done, it will prevent any future prime minister from taunting the public with the remark that the date was in his back pocket or simply extending her term in office for political expediency.
If we can establish the dates for Carnival forever, why can’t we establish the date for general elections with the same certainty?
I have three wishes for our country as we start this new decade: 1. that we treat each other with grace and dignity, 2. that our public officials conduct themselves with kindness instead of arrogance and 3. that we regularise the dates for general elections.