A senior government minister is saying no way to Barbados following in Trinidad and Tobago’s steps to set term limits for prime ministers, but a leading political scientist is suggesting it’s the direction this country needs to go.
General Secretary of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Donville Inniss strongly rejected the notion after the Parliament in Port-of-Spain passed a Constitutional Amendment Bill that sets a two-term limit for prime ministers among other constitutional changes.
The Bill also allows for the recall of legislators who don’t perform, and a run-off election if a successful candidate fails to secure 50 per cent of the votes cast in a poll – steps that Peter Wickham told Barbados TODAY are good for democracy and should be followed by the Freundel Stuart administration.
But Inniss, the Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development insisted that a country should not get rid of a leader who was making an excellent contribution to national development based on term limits.
“You should not discard that individual like that. So because he may have served two terms, which is eight years . . . it doesn’t mean that you must be put out to pasture. Sometime we say ‘let us go with term limits’, oblivious to the fact that term limits may then impose upon society, political organisations, parties and governments, a very substandard system that either doesn’t allow the best to emerge or stay at the top,” he said.
Inniss insisted that the focus should be on limiting the powers of prime ministers within the Westminster system, although making it clear that he was not making any reference to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
He added that the issue of recalling a Member of Parliament who is not performing well is not high on the administration’s agenda.
“Those of us who offer ourselves to be parliamentary representatives have to go through a very difficult period. We have to get out there and offer ourselves to people. People must know who we are, what we stand for and I believe, therefore, there must be constant dialogue between MPs and their constituents. I would not want a system where 100 people in a constituency that has a voting population of 10,000 decide that they don’t like you for whatever reason and they go out there on some witch hunt and a serious campaign to recall you,” Inniss added.
But Wickham described the decision by Trinidad and Tobago as one which is “very, very good for democracy”.
“ . . . I don’t see anything objectionable in those proposals. I think those proposals would really enhance democracy in Trinidad and Tobago and I find that it is substantially more significant than Eric Williams’ changes in 1970s to become a republic,” he said, commending Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for “the noble act” of surrendering significant power.
“There are very few prime ministers who are as brave as her. But I definitely think that it is a change that is needed in all Caribbean countries, bearing in mind that the only country that has term limits is Guyana. Trinidad would now become the second and I think it does indicate where all of the Caribbean countries need to be going . . . So all the proposals to me reflect the developments in democracy that we ought to look to.”
Meantime, Jamaican political scientist Professor Neville Duncan told Barbados TODAY that at least one aspect of the legislation should be avoided by Barbados.
He was far from happy with the proposal to have a run-off if a successful candidate does not secure half of the votes in an election.
“I think in more ethnically dominant countries a run-off election might bring some benefit. I think people made their first choices and now they are told to make a choice that is second best. I don’t see what good is served by that. I think you make your first choice and you win or lose by it,” he said.
“It’s difficult for me overall to feel that in countries like Barbados, or Jamaica or St Lucia, or St Vincent and the Grenadines or wherever could benefit from that development,” the political scientist added.