Political analyst Dr Winford James says the Government can go to Parliament to ask for an extension of the upcoming general election if the COVID-19 pandemic turns into a national crisis. His comments came days after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in an radio interview said the safety of citizens during the COVID-19 threat will take priority over the timing of this year’s general election.
The PM said the general election is fixed by the Constitution and Parliament will come to an end in September following which Government would have 90 days under the Constitution to call the election.
Weighing in on the issue, James said Rowley can call the election before, during or at the end of the 90 days period. “But we have on our hands a world-wide pandemic which has disrupted our lives. None of us knows how long these adjustments will last and if the curve will be flattened.”
He said with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and soaring deaths globally it’s unsure when this pandemic will be brought under control. The situation, he said can improve or worsen. “It can go either way.”
Despite Government’s insistence that the country has a six months food supply cover, James said if exporters and manufacturers are unable to ship food to T&T we may have reasons to put the election on hold since there would be a lot of uncertainty and a possible crisis.
“This would be an immediate source for worry. Will there be an effect on our country that would suggest that we can’t hold an election?” He said nobody would want a Government to overstay its five year time.
“The Government would have to be very concerned about that. There is going to be pressure for the Government to find a way for the country to approve of its over staying its time in power. It is not a casual matter.”
As its stand, he said the Government runs the risk of coming across as being self righteous. James said for Government to deal with the fall out of this crisis they would not be able to escape a rise in public debt.
Also weighing in on the matter was political analyst Prof John La Guerre who said the latest the election can be called was in December but the Government has the option of going beyond the 90 days if there is pending danger or crisis in the country.
“But that would be going beyond the Constitution. They would have to go to Parliament to amend the Constitution to have an extension. The future direction of this virus is so uncertain especially when we are being told that a vaccine would not be available until the end of the year. It would put us in a precarious situation. I think Government would be forced to play it by air and see how this thing goes as it develops.”
La Guerre said if there are unprecedented deaths and people have to remain indoors to contain the virus from spreading, could be a good enough reason to delay the election. “If the pandemic continues to spread it would be difficult for the Government to return to political normalcy. If the virus prolongs it will affect the potential for campaigning and put a burden on the Government.”
But Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC said T&T’s Constitution “has fixed general elections to occur regardless of situations.”
He said for an extension to be granted beyond the three month period, Government would have go to Parliament to pass legislation for it to be approved. Maharaj said would require a specified majority in the House of Representatives. He said if Government approaches Parliament for an extension it would depend on the circumstances facing us.
“It will depend on the circumstances…the Parliamentarians would have to determine depending on the facts. If it is you need an extension for a week then you cannot come and ask for three or four months. So it would depend on the facts…the medical evidence and what is happening in the world and everything else. If other countries are having elections it would look bad for you not to have your election.”