How to make a dictator


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Category: Trinidad Politics 12 Nov 06


Definition of dictator: “This term is used to describe a leader who holds enormous personal power either through his office or the power to make laws without restraint. Some, notably Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany achieved office as head of government by election or appointment.”


In my interview with Sir Ellis on his Constitutional draft recently I brought up the fears that his draft gave too much power to the proposed Executive President, that we could be setting ourselves up for a dictatorship.


After assuring me this was simply an outline, open to comment and change, this was his response to the charge:


“In the constitution of 1962 the Prime Minister had absolute power. We didn’t call it a dictatorship. You can’t talk of restraining people by putting so many checks and balances that it will not allow them to govern.


“It is reasonable to expect that in a democracy where the President is an elected member of Parliament, and elected by secret ballot by other elected members, that an Executive President will have some regard to views other than his own.”


I have read the Ellis Clarke draft constitution in full and in my view the Sir Ellis draft has left the constitution open for every imaginable “twist of the criminal mind.”


I write this with particular urgency since Prime Minister Patrick Manning is charging ahead with a round table team, led by himself as Chairman to present a new draft, which he has declared “will be published as a Green Paper of the Draft Government policy” by December 31.


In the wrong hands, this document as it is can be misused. There is a danger that it will quietly be passed under our noses in 2007 since we are not generally an introspective people who are carried along with the tidal wave of the next distraction (Christmas and Carnival anyone?)


Not mature


In the next two columns I will demonstrate how the Sir Ellis Clarke draft can produce a dictator or a maximum leader.


The would-be dictator has to aim for the post of Executive President. The would-be Executive President (who I’ll refer to as ML (Maximum Leader) needs to be over 18 and to have been a T&T resident here for two years. The requirements laid out in the present Constitution require that the president be 35 years of age and resident ten years hopefully insuring that he is mature enough to use his power responsibly.


ML’s party needs to win control of the Tobago House of Assembly and nine Regional Corporations in the Local Government Elections.


This is not difficult to do and in fact may be the likely result in the next Local Government Elections.


ML’s party wins the General Election.


Under the first past the post system the party needs to win a two-thirds majority (28 seats) in the House of Representatives. This has happened in T&T before in 1971 and 1986 and the result is quite possible in the next election. The combination of the newly redrawn constituencies that increases the number of marginal seats to 11, and two or more Opposition parties splitting the Opposition votes, makes this result quite likely.


The party gains immediate control of the Senate with a majority of 35 seats out of the 49. This is a 70 per cent majority.


Seats in the Senate are appointed partially by Local Government bodies, including the Tobago House of Assembly, which is already controlled by ML’s party, and partially by proportional representation based on the results of the General Election. In this new Senate there are no independent senators to act as a check on the ruling party’s power. Thus ML’s party would be assured of at least a 70 per cent majority in the Senate.


The making of a dictator continues next week.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur