Saturday, September 12, 2009

SVG Constitution

St Vincent ponders change to republic

Guyana, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago among Commonwealth Caribbean nations have done it.

Now St Vincent and the Grenadines is being asked to follow suit and ditch Queen Elizabeth of Britain as the country's head of state.

The people of the a multi-island State comprising inhabited and uninhabited islands, islets and cays, will vote in a referendum in November to change the constitution handed down at the island's independence in 1979.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves hopes it will be replaced by what he called a "nationalist, home-grown constitution".
He said: "The end of the monarchical system and its replacement by a home-grown, non-executive President is of immense practical and psychological significance.

"This act of historical reclamation is part of the process of our people coming of age ...."
In effect, the Queen, represented on St Vincent by a native Governor-General, would be replaced by a largely ceremonial president.


Also along these lines, is the proposal to make it easier to replace the British Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of appeal for St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The Prime Minister has promised a vigorous campaign to gain the necessary two-thirds majority to implement the new constitution, which was prepared after lengthy public consultations.

NDP leader Arnhim Eustace is of the view that politics has got in the way because general elections are not too far away.
The last elections were in December 2005, when the governing Unity Labour Party won a second successive term.
Mr Eustace has also rubbished the government's claims that the new constitution will usher in an era of far-reaching reforms.
Dr Gonsalves insists that it better secures the fundamental rights and freedoms of islanders, and among other things, strengthens and reforms parliament (to be called the national assembly) and reduces the role of the prime minister.

No confidence vote

For the opposition, many of these changes are merely cosmetic. "I see no fundamental provision that markedly reduces prime ministerial power."

On that point, the government cites the following provision to effectively outlaw snap elections as one example of a major diminution of power: General elections cannot be called before the expiration of four years and nine months after the first sitting of the National Assembly after the previous dissolution of parliament.

Separate conditions apply in the event of a successful no confidence vote in parliament.

The head of government will also have limitations on the size of his cabinet and will lose the authority to appoint statutory service commissions in favour of the president acting "in his own deliberate judgement."

Also of interest is a revamped electoral system with a mix of the traditional first past the post system and proportional representation (PR).

If approved, members of parliament will be elected in the usual way - 17 of them - with another 10 chosen on a PR formula from submitted party lists.


One of the more controversial areas of the constitution is the retention of the death penalty and new clauses to insulate it against "judge-made restrictions".

Dr Gonsalves, along with many Caribbean governments which retain the Privy Council, has been angered by rulings which have effectively ended hangings in much of the region.

Local and international human rights activists have, as expected, strongly criticised this recommended change.

But the Prime Minister insists that 90% of the 100,000 or so Vincentians already support capital punishment.

He also referred to another sensitive subject that is thought to have overwhleming backing among locals - the entrenchment of marriage as a union between men and women.

The independent Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, while acknowledging that the new constitution makes significant progress on human rights, said the ban on same sex unions has "overtly homophobic implications."

The stage is therefore set for a spirited campaign for the 25 November referendum.