Saturday, November 23, 2002

Anand Ramlogan, writing in the Trinidad Guardian today (no link, because the Guardian still has no online archive), argues that the problem of representation in T&T politics would be solved by amending the constitution to include a "right of recall":

"What remedy does our system give [voters] if they’re dissatisfied with the performance of their elected representatives?...

"If the losing candidate knows that he has the opportunity to remove or unseat his successful opponent via a petition signed by,a stipulated percentage (50 or 60 per cent?) of the registered voters who voted in the last election, he will have an incentive to monitor the performance of the representative.

"The right of recall is, in my view, essential to a functioning democracy. It will restore power to the people by giving them the right to withdraw their vote for elected representatives who do not perform. It is the natural form of democratic pressure that will compel representatives to perform....

"Constitutional reform must involve giving the electorate a right of recall. Once six months have elapsed, any elected MP or councillor must be subject to a power of recall vested in the people who elected them to serve.

"A petition signed by a stipulated majority percentage (say 51 or 60 per cent) of the voters that elected that official can be presented to the President via the EBC or the Speaker in Parliament and a by-election must be called within three months.

"To prevent recall by voter padding, only people who were registered to vote when the official was elected should have the right to recall."

I suspect this "right" would have a meaningful effect only in marginal constituencies, & it would almost certainly work to promote political patronage, as the government of the day would sensibly pour money via all sorts of special works projects into any constituency that seemed likely to try the recall process.

Also, the mechanism as Ramlogan outlines it has an interesting feature the consequences of which he may not have realised: it would permit persons who were registered voters at the time of the last election but who chose to stay away from the polls to participate in the recall & perhaps determine its outcome. This would be a roundabout way of putting some meaningful political power in the hands of citizens who (like me) decide to abstain on election day in order to protest the choice of candidates for their constituency & the ideological bankruptcy of the existing parties. Six months later they could continue their protest by initiating recall as a matter of principle.

Of course, we could get more directly to the point by putting a "none of the above" box on the ballot, & stipulating that if a majority of voters in a particular constituency thus indicate a lack of confidence in all available candidates a by-election must be held, under the same rules.

No comments: