Time to set a fixed date for general elections

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The People’s National Movement manifesto 2015 begins: ‘In summary, we in the PNM envision a society where integrity and morality in public life is of the highest priority and the Government serves the public good above all else, and where decisions are made and actions taken by the Government in the best interest of all concerned.’

That statement comes to mind as we embark on the journey towards general election 2020. It also reminds me that the 2015 election represented a significant departure from the conventions which we have developed as a country.

Except for the election years of 2000, 2001 and 2002, governments have either called elections early or within ‘three months after every dissolution of Parliament’ as outlined in our Constitution.

This was the practice before the Partnership administration of 2010. The People’s Partnership’s natural term in office was from 18 June 2010 to 17 June 2015.

Former prime minister, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar, chose to take the election down to the wire and hold it on September 7 with just two days to go for the expiration of the three month window.

Except for circumstances of war, it is clear the framers of our Constitution intended for the life of Parliament to be five years. (Sections 67, 68 & 69, Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (http://laws.gov.tt/ pdf/Constitution.pdf).

The unprecedented extension of the life of Parliament on grounds which have not been shared with the population communicated the guiding beliefs of an administration which epitomised the negative values which gave us the nickname – ‘Trickydadian’.

On one occasion, the late president ANR Robinson said ‘streams into rivers and rivers into seas’ as a way of cautioning us about how small acts of indiscretion can escalate. What the Partnership government did was not illegal but it broke a significant precedent in the way we conduct our political business.

One of the reasons 51.68 per cent of the electorate voted for the PNM on Monday, September 7, 2015, was their belief in the promises of the manifesto. In living up to those promises, it is necessary for Dr Keith Rowley to dissolve Parliament at midnight on September 6, 2020 and announce the date for the general election.

Here is an opportunity for him to demonstrate his commitment to doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

The time has come for us to standardise the date for a general election which I am suggesting should be the fourth Monday in September.

If this is done, it will prevent any future prime minister from taunting the public with the remark that the date was in his back pocket or simple extending her term in office for political expediency. If we can establish the dates for Carnival forever, why can’t we establish the date for general elections with the same certainty?

I have three wishes for our country as we start this new decade: • That we treat each

other with grace and dignity;• that our public officials conduct themselves with kindness instead of arrogance;• that we regularise the dates for general elections.

Dennise Demming
Diego Martin