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PM makes offer to step aside for Bill success

PM makes offer to step aside for Bill success

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Amidst the applause of his parliamentary colleagues from both sides of the chamber and even from the gallery, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said he was willing to give up his post if it is required for the proposed constitution bill to pass.{{more}}

Gonsalves offered the concession on Tuesday while making his case for a “yes” vote on the first day of debate following the second reading of the bill in the House of Assembly.

“This thing is so important to me. I told my sons and daughters that if it is a requirement for this constitution to pass is that Ralph Gonsalves remits office, I will do that,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s announcement that he would voluntarily demit office prompted loud applause from Opposition senators, which caused Gonsalves to conclude that their true objection was him and not the bill.

Armed with a 70-page summary for a “yes” vote that he prepared for the debate (an abridged 15 page version was circulated in The House), the Prime Minister elaborated on what he considered key areas of concern in the proposed new constitution.

These included the appointment of a president, the reduction of responsibilities for the Prime Minister and the handing of more power to the Opposition Leader (to be called Minority Leader).

On the issue of the presidency, Gonsalves said a republican form of government would be established with a “home grown, non-executive President, elected by the National Assembly with all the requisite safeguards”. According to the document, the monarchial system that includes the Queen of England and Governor General will come to an end.

“At the present time there is only one man in the country who decides who is Governor General and who is not – that’s the Prime Minister,” Gonsalves said. “But now, with a president (if the bill is passed), … the whole parliament has to be involved.”

Under the new constitution, the Prime Minister will not be able to call snap elections as is the case now, neither will he be able to appoint senators. Instead, they will be chosen by general elections.

The document also states that the Minority Leader will chair the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which will have a majority of Opposition members.

The Minority Leader will also be involved in the selection of President and the Chairman of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and will be consulted by the Prime Minister before he tenders advice to the President.

The Prime Minister also touched on the issue of human rights, which he said was strengthened in five new areas, including the creation of a Human Rights Commission that will adjudicate on certain rights issues without the need to go through a lengthy court cases.

“I cannot believe that any man or woman of my generation, or subsequently, could go in a referendum where no right is taken away, where the constitution is better by far than what we have at the present time and would go and vote ‘no’,” Gonsalves said.

“How can anybody vote against this? This constitution makes profound changes for the better. Any one who says after listening to me that the only changes here are cosmetic has to be living in a different world than the one which I’m living.

“Any opposition against this bill leading to a no vote has no creditable intellectual basis or merit.”

Gonsalves ended his presentation by appealing to the general public to give the referendum the two-thirds vote it requires to pass, while staying true to their political affiliation.

“If you love your NDP there is nothing wrong in voting ‘yes’ in the referendum and voting for your party or your representative in the elections. It’s a whole year away; when we get there all of this is forgotten because there will be some other immediate issues.”

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