Constitutional Reform and National Elections

The telling results in having No Opposition in Parliament from Grenada’s 2013 National Election and its triggering of much uneasiness and questioning by the public, give a good basis for which Constitutional Reform must be revisited with a view to have disturbing issues of Parliamentary Democracy clarified. The settlement of the issues would be to the extent as to what is practically possible within Grenada’s political culture, since it must be understood that Democracy is an ‘abstract concept’ and thus seeking to obtain the ideal or the absolute state would be ‘illusive’. Even if ‘absolute democracy’ has been well defined and easily determined and can be objectively reached, obtaining this ideal achievement will still depend on the subjective interpretation and application of the established norms and there will always be criticisms and problems in the course of doings.

It is also important to come to terms with the fact that not all of the issues raised for Constitutional Reform would be genuine and deserving. Most of those issues could be addressed otherwise under existing legislations. Thus, election’s related issues must first be directed to the Representation of the People Act and then any need for improvements to its provisions and processes would bring into focus Electoral Reform, and not necessarily for Constitutional Reform. Moreover, well articulated and constituted policies and principles of political parties will greatly assist in the evolution of Democracy, on issues such as whether or not there should be a two-term limit for a sitting Prime Minister and should a ‘rejected candidate’ in an election be allowed to sit in Parliament.

It is sufficient for a National Constitution to entrench fundamental principles on the dignity and rights of citizens and on the sovereignty, politics and governance of the nation. The Constitution should be concise, clear, cohesive and conclusive. Expounding and practising the constitutional provisions require statutory protocols and regulations, and of course this has to be done prudently within natural and moral justice. A ‘review’ of the constitution would be of necessity only upon strong discoveries of weaknesses and deficiencies or of ‘modest areas’ not contemplated originally; whereas a ‘reform’ will go further towards drastic restructuring of the ‘form and context’ of the constitution. Constitutional Reform must therefore be contextualized before venturing.

The situation of having No Opposition in Parliament is a ‘non-issue’, especially on the notion that it presents a constitutional crisis, and so it does not warrant attention for Constitutional Reform. Generally, none of the electorate votes consciously to have his favoured political party in Opposition. A result of having no Official Opposition is a realistic and reasonable possibility and in fact, the Constitution speaks to the occasion when this would arise. The fault then is with the Political Leadership for not responding to the case of the “vacancy in the office of Leader of the Opposition” in the Standing Rules and Orders for Parliament’s proceedings, as well as with the enactment of laws and regulations which are based on at least sections 24, 55, 62 and 66 of the Constitution. This situation had occurred with the 1999 Election and the significant lessons should have been learnt and the necessary actions taken, at least to take care of the stipulated requirements for the composition of the Public Accounts Committee as well as of the Senate. The Opposition has always been disparaged.

The No Opposition in Parliament gives renewed vigour to the call for Proportional Representations in Grenada; this sounds logical and meaningful especially when the popular votes from an election for the various political parties are noteworthy. However, Proportional Representation would not make a great difference in reflecting the people’s views and in effecting their participations in parliamentary debates, nor in enabling full parliamentary accountability to them; but it may cause greater challenges for the governance of the State. The Proportional Representations issue is definitely not ‘urgent and key’ for Constitutional Reform, since other avenues and mechanisms can be instituted for the involvement and empowerment of the people; and this would include Town-hall Meetings, Local Government and Constituency Parliamentary Offices.

Proportional Representations may be accommodated in a simple way by expanding the Senate to include at least representations of the contesting parties in an election as well as of Civil Society groups (particularly ‘community-based social partners’) which traditionally do not have a place in the Senate. Another consideration for Proportional Representations is to have a ‘round of elections’ to achieve a ‘passing threshold’ of popular votes, before a party or configuration of parties can form the Government. But to propose the introduction of Proportional Representations by changing Parliament from Bicameral to Unicameral is entering into more extensive discussions on Governance philosophy and the radical restructuring of the Constitution.

Having No Opposition in Parliament appears to be synonymous with the Prime Minister having a ‘free hand to rule’. The Prime Minister would see himself as having “absolute authority” and can develop into a Democratic Dictatorship; especially considering the seemingly vast constitutional powers of his Office. The role and scope of the Prime Minster are well approved and imperative for Constitutional Reform. Critical to this concern is the practical meaning of the Independence and Separation of the three organs of the State; Parliament, Executive and Judiciary. Particularly, there is no sharp defining-line between the Executive and Parliament, which could be the most ‘conflicting and confusing’ provisions in the Constitution and thereby making mockery of Democracy.

There is call also for the inclusion of an Electoral Commission in the Constitution, essentially to bring more credibility and confidence in the electoral process. The concern could be addressed within the framework of Electoral Reform with the various recommendations from the Overseas Observer Missions for elections over the years. A move can be to make the office of the Supervisor of Elections ‘exclusive’ which must not be held by an otherwise fully occupied individual and to have the Parliamentary Elections Office properly trained and equipped to ensure integrity and efficiency for the task. The recent computerisation of the Voters Registration system would have eased the possibility for ‘chaos, fraud and error’ in conducting elections. Moreover, the establishment of a Political Ombudsman which will be opened to the public may be realised to assist with arbitration of discrepancies and putting to rest of any suspicions arising from the processes related to elections.

An Electoral Commission cannot be deemed a priority in the cry for “shared sacrifices” by the Government and the people to relieve the financial burden on the State. However, any insistence for the Commission can reach compromise by taking on board the suggestion by deceased Constitutional Lawyer Dr. McIntosh for Grenada’s Republican Constitution; that of apparently merging the roles of the Supervisor of Elections and Constituency Boundaries Commission into a new single entity to be called The Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Campaign Financing has being a growing concern asking for regulations on the source of funds and the limits of expenses, mainly from the 1999 Election in which Dr. Mitchell first sweep the board at the Polls. This is a very interesting and difficult issue, but it is not for Constitutional Reform. Electoral Reform incorporating a Code of Political Conduct needs to be undertaken and current criminal laws involving Declarations of Assets, Anti-Corruption and other provisions such as a Freedom of Information Act must come into play. A political party would have been registered as a ‘business entity’ and thus must be held totally responsible for gross violations.

Other issues surrounding a National Election, which are promoted for Constitutional Reform, include a Set Date for Election, the general duties of an Elected Representative and a transition period for the official induction of a new Administration. Each issue must be analysed thoroughly for its merits; in rationale, imperativeness and appropriateness accordingly. Undue pressure for the Reform may just be threatening the Nation’s Democracy!

Copyright © 15 April 2013, J.K. Roberts. All Rights Reserved.
J. K Roberts is a ‘premature retiree’ of the Grenada’s Public Service, an author of two books and the founder of a civil society organisation called National Initiative for Prolific Policies (NIPP, Gda. Inc).

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