Monday, October 05, 2009

Constitutional Referendum

- Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says Caribbean countries are afraid of holding referenda on their constitutions because they do not trust their citizens.
“I want to say to you that there is no country in the Caribbean that anyone has gone to the people with a referendum; a referendum election to ask them to change a constitution,” said Gonsalves as he addressed a rally organised by his Unity Labour Party (ULP) on Sunday.

“People are afraid. You know why they are afraid? They don’t trust their own people, even where the referendum is calling only for 50 per cent plus one,” he added.

The government is campaigning for a “yes” vote in the November 25 national referendum to change the country’s constitution that has been in force since independence in 1979. On the other hand, the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) is calling on citizens to vote “no”.

A two-thirds majority, or 66.7 per cent, of the valid votes cast is needed to adopt the proposed constitution, which comes at the end of six years of consultation with citizens at home and in the Diaspora.

The Prime Minister noted that some Caribbean countries, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Bahamas, and Guyana only needed 50 per cent plus one vote to amend their constitutions while Barbados, Trinidad and Belize don’t require a referendum.

Gonsalves said that because of the two-thirds majority requirement, “you can have a recalcitrant minority to stop the good things from happening and that’s why, in the new constitution we say 60 percent”.

But he said his government was not afraid to seek an amendment.

“And we are not afraid to come to the people and say give us 67 per cent, give yourself 67 per cent, give yourself a gift of the best constitution possible anywhere in the world to govern us,” he said.

In his address to the rally, Gonsalves recounted the history of the multi-island state under colonial rule and that the proposed constitution was “grounded in the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and not the Queen.

“What are we to tell the children, that someone who is not of us holds the most elevated position in our country?

“[The Queen] represents an elitism and an alien set of ideas not connected to the soul and the bosom of our people and we have to free ourselves from these restraints,” he said.

Gonsalves said that the proposed constitution reflects five paramount constitutional doctrines including extending and deepening parliamentary democracy “in a manner nowhere else anywhere in the parliamentary system anywhere in the world”.

It also represents “the most advanced framework of good governance available in any parliamentary system anywhere in the world,” the Prime Minister added.

Original story on "SVGToday"