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Opposition to fight new constitution

Opposition to fight  new constitution

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The process leading up to the historic referendum on a new constitution in November this year will not be all smooth sailing.{{more}}

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and his government may have wanted the vote to be far removed from the fierce, cut throat environment of a general elections campaign, but they had better prepare for war.

“We will be putting our own position to the public,” declared Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, as he stated his intention to fight the passage of the new constitution.

Eustace was responding to calls made last week by government and others involved in the process to rethink his position and rejoin the process.

Last July, Eustace led his fellow New Democratic Party (NDP) parliamentarians in a boycott of the process in protest of four governance issues stemming from the 2005 General Elections, which he said needed to be addressed.

These issues included a Unity Labour Party (ULP) political billboard at Sion Hill which was still on display two years after the 2005 General Elections; a demand for an explanation from Senator Julian Francis about a statement he made which suggested that he knew how many votes he got from the Syrian community in the elections and the removal of Rodney Adams as the Supervisor of Elections.

Eustace also demanded that he be furnished with a copy of the 2005 General Elections report.

All the above issues have since be settled, but now Eustace says that he will continue to boycott the process because of his objection to some fundamental issues that have been decided and will be included in the new constitution.

One of these issues is a move to increase the number of elected seats in the House of Assembly from 15 to either 17 or 19, with a further 8 or 10 members selected on the basis of proportional representation from party lists.

Another issue is a decision not to impose term limits for the office of Prime Minister.

“After lengthy deliberations it was unanimously agreed that no term limits should be placed on the Prime Minister’s tenure of office,” states page 10 of the report of the Committee of the Whole House of Assembly, in response to The Revised Final Report of the Constitutional Review Commission.

This is the document that will guide the constitution drafting team.

Eustace told SEARCHLIGHT that he is fundamentally opposed to other issues which he will elaborate on in the coming months.

“These issues for us are central and I am not prepared to give in on them,” he said.

“I am not going to just follow Ralph Gonsalves…if we don’t accept it, we will say to people, don’t accept that.”

The NDP leader said that he is convinced that some of the issues decided upon for the constitution are politically motivated.

He also rejected suggestions that by abandoning the process he removed himself and his party from the decision making process.

“They have the majority, so they would have won anyway,” he said.

Therefore, Eustace made it clear that despite continued requests to do so, he will not be nominating anyone to the drafting committee which currently includes Parnell Campbell QC, Dr Hamid Ghany of Trinidad and Chairman Dr Francis Alexis QC of Grenada.

Eustace’s position has however been dismissed as nonsensical by Dr Gonsalves.

He told SEARCHLIGHT that if the NDP decides to fight the new constitution they will be fighting the ULP and civil society.

He accused Eustace of playing politics with the issue because he is now changing his tune from the four issues he had originally cited as his reason for withdrawing from the process.

“It is an incomprehensible decision. He is turning his hand against the deepening of democracy,” Dr Gonsalves said of Eustace.

So much for the hands that were being held and the metaphoric songs of unity for constitution reform in October of 2002 – this is 2009!

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