By Shemuel Fanfair
Ahead of today’s scheduled sitting of the National Assembly from which the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) plans to abstain, two former Speakers of the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament have held out that 33 votes out of 65 constitute a majority, with one calling on the President David Granger-led Government to resign and call fresh elections.
These contentions follow the December 21, 2018 passage of an Opposition filed
no-confidence motion against the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration when now expelled representative Charrandas Persaud made a conscience vote and supported the motion.
Government had initially accepted the motion now turned resolution but subsequently shifted its position with Attorney General Basil Williams having declared that the Administration will mount a legal challenge on the view that 34 votes were required for successful passage.
The Attorney General held to that view after Attorney Nigel Hughes, husband of Government Minister Cathy Hughes, made that comment following the passage of the motion.
However, in an interview with this media group on Wednesday, former Deputy Speaker (1995-2000; 2010-2011), Dr Faud Khan who has also acted in the post of Speaker, clearly outlined that 33 votes surpassed the 50 per cent mark.
“If that had occurred on my watch while I was sitting in the chair, it would have been obvious that it would be more than 50 per cent of the vote that would have carried the motion and from what I gather, 32.5 is the 50 per cent mark and 33 votes go over the 50 per cent and as a result of that, this carries the vote into the no-confidence realm. Thirty-four makes no sense because you’re creating an issue that really and truly doesn’t exist. Once the vote is carried, then the no-confidence is carried,” Dr Khan postulated.
Constitution is clear
Dr Khan highlighted that had such a motion been passed in Trinidad, elections would have been called in his home country, which is Guyana’s Caricom (Caribbean Community) counterpart and geographic neighbour.
“You would have to call elections as you have lost confidence; you would have a lot of shenanigans [which has] been happening in Guyana; they [Trinidad’s Government] would try all kinds of legal actions to try and stop it but at the end of the day, the Constitution is clear, the Government [of Guyana] has lost the vote
and if the vote is in favour of the Opposition, then it means that the Government has been defeated and they have no locus standi to stand up and say ‘yes, we will stay’. What you are really doing is losing the confidence of the people,” the United National Congress (UNC) Representative detailed.
Today’s sitting in Parliament Building was scheduled to deal with “the consequences” of the no-confidence resolution.
He observed that the Speaker does not have the right to “revoke” the vote as he made it clear that the requiring 34 votes for passage argument will not hold up.
“It’s null and void; anyone who tries to pull that argument is really grasping at straws and they are going against the Constitution. For public confidence to be on a Government, you would have to [call elections]; if they don’t, whatever they do, the public confidence will not be on them,” Dr Khan posited.
He further disputed the merit of the 34 argument on his belief that previous motions and legislations passed with 33 votes could be viewed as null and void, a view held by some local observers.
The people have spoken
Some of what Dr Khan put forward was shared by former Trinidad and Tobago House Speaker (1986-1991), Nizam Mohammed who posited that 33 votes out of 65 reflect a majority.
Some have argued that 33 is a simple majority while 34 would be an absolute majority but the former Speaker indicated that ‘majority’ was the key word as Guyana’s Constitution makes no mention of ‘simple’ or absolute. Article 106 (6) of the Constitution in fact states:
“The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.”
Mohammed highlighted that the term ‘half’ was not expressed. “The ordinary interpretation is not talking about half; it’s talking about majority and a majority in ordinary language would be 33. Majority as I understand it would be more than the minority and the majority would be 33,” Mohammed stated.
When asked on whether or not the Administration has a valid case to argue, the former Speaker noted that the will of the people has to be taken into consideration and even though Government has 33 seats and the Opposition, 32, according to him, the people’s will was reflected in the December 21 vote.
“If such a situation existed in Trinidad and Tobago, I do not believe that there would have been any delay in announcing a date for the elections. It happened during the time of Basdeo Panday when he was Prime Minister and there a defection of three members of his Government and the then Prime Minister said he did not have the kind of majority in according with law to carry on any further and they had an election,” Mohamed recalled of the early 2000s era.
“My view is, without interfering with what is taking place in Guyana, is that the people through their representatives did in fact speak,” he added.
With the Guyana Government’s defeat, the next steps in Clause 7 of Article 106 goes on to state that “Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.”
“What will be taking place now in machinations among the politicians on both sides to either bring the county to elections before the required date or the Government will seek to buy more time rather than call an election,” the former speaker said.
Mohammed explained that in Trinidad’s bi-cameral legislature, a motion of no-confidence, which is filed in the House of Representatives, would be carried by a majority of voting members present. It was observed that if the country had 65 members and all were present, then 33 would be a majority and a no-confidence motion would be carried unless there are standing orders or provisions in the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution that require a specific number or percentage.
The twin island republic’s Parliament has 41 seats in the Senate and 41 seats in the House of Representatives representing an Upper and Lower house respectively.
Locally, both Government and Opposition have met with the diplomatic community as Guyana gears up to potentially head to the polls within the coming months.