The Senate session on Tuesday 2nd March 2021. (Image courtesy Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago)

The Tobago House of Assembly Amendment Bill 2021 was passed in the Senate in the early hours of Wednesday morning (March 3rd), with 16 senators voting for and fourteen against.

The vote means the number of electoral seats in the THA has been changed from 12 to 15.

One independent senator voted with the Government and political analyst, Dr Winford James, says this should be of concern for the Government.

“We have to note that there are nine Independent Senators, and eight of them voted against the Bill, which is very interesting,” the political analyst observed.  “Government has a built-in majority, and they were depending on the casting vote [of the Presiding Officer] in the event that all nine Independent Senators voted against the Bill.  But eight of them did, and that, to my mind, is significant.”

“Why would you have a Bill that you would think is good for Tobago and only have one out of the nine Independent Senators supporting you?”

Dr James argues that 15 seats does not prevent another deadlock, given that it is possible in a future election that three political parties contesting could each win five seats in the Assembly.  Another scenario he points to is that no one party could wind up without a clear majority either, in a future THA poll.

The political analyst also points out that government cannot put any pressure on the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to work within the government’s time frame.

He says this will be infringing on the EBC’s independence.

“What the government cannot do is to force the EBC to do its work at a pace that is convenient to its agenda.  We can’t allow the holdover executive to remain in power for too long—it’s just contrary to all the decent expectations of democracy here,” he asserts.

“The government would like things wrapped up by May, and even that is a long time,” Dr James points out.  “The government cannot change the part of the law where the EBC is required to work with a narrow time limit.  That would impinge on the independence of the EBC, and would require a special majority in the Senate, for that to happen.”

The political analyst maintains that a special majority would be needed to effect any changes to the legislation governing the EBC’s operations., which is enshrined in the Constitution.

“If you’re going to change the EBC Act, you need a special majority to do that,” he stated.