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Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj

Tobago may be headed to an election rerun if the two parties, the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) and the People’s National Movement (PNM) cannot come to an agreement about the appointment of a new President Officer and Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) today.

Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj was the architect of the THA Act and both he and former ambassador Reginald Dumas agree that there are very few ways to resolve the current 6-6 deadlock in Tobago.

In a telephone interview yesterday Maharaj said that the only solution to the current 6-6 deadlock in Tobago is a return to the polls.

Maharaj said when he drafted the legislation back in 1996 as Attorney General the aim was to give Tobago full autonomy but the legislation had to be amended when the PNM did not agree to that Tobago autonomy.

“It was a different piece of legislation but the PNM at that time said that they were not supporting full internal self-governance for Tobago and the original bill which was drafted by me was to give Tobago full internal self-government but within the Republic of T&T,” he said.

Maharaj said with the Act as it is, the only resolution to the deadlock would be an election rerun.

“My recollection of the legislation seems to me that it would require a rerun of the elections because it did not anticipate that there would be a tie. It would not be able to function unless there’s an agreement. They would not even be able to select a presiding officer,” Maharaj said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Maharaj said that based on the tenets of the THA Act, there is no provision to even elect a presiding officer.

“When we went to the Parliament, me and Mr (A.N.R) Robinson, we had to amend the legislation, so it was a legislation that we had to amend in order to get it passed by a simple majority because full internal self-government would require a special majority,” he said.

“That caused us to be able to truncate the legislation,” he said.

The even number of the THA seats though, means that at some point there could be a tie but Maharaj said that was never part of the equation when the legislation was being drafted.

“Mr Robinson had the lead role in it and when we went to discuss it with the people in Tobago, that was the feedback that we got. But that was initially his recommendation but the people in the consultation, that was what they wanted,” he said.

“They never envisaged a situation like this,” he said.

Dumas described the Tobago situation as as “total circus” but agreed with Maharaj that only an election do over could fix the current impasse.

In a brief interview yesterday on the way forward, Dumas said he could provide none as “we are all in the dark”.

“The situation was not catered for in the THA Act,” he said.

He questioned why there was an even number of seats in Tobago and recalled the 2001 election when the PNM and UNC tied at 18-18 and then president Arthur N.R Robinson would choose the new prime minister.

“Each was confident they would be chosen. In this case there is no such provision, that cannot happen,” he said.

Dumas said that the 12 assemblymen would be sworn in as expected but then there is the first challenge to select a presiding officer.

“That is going to pose the first problem,” he said.

He said that after the presiding officer is elected, then that person can select the election of a Chief Secretary by the already sworn in assemblymen.

Another part of the conundrum is that the THA, if unconstituted, cannot then dissolve itself to make way for fresh elections.

“Everything is up in the air now. I want to see what legal advice the Prime Minister will get,” he said.

While a second election would be the only way to resolve the impasse, Dumas questioned just how that would happen.

“According to the THA Act, the THA lasts for four years from the day of its first meeting and then stands dissolved automatically, unless it dissolves itself sooner,” he said.

Dumas said unless the THA assemblymen are able to select a presiding officer, then the THA is not properly constituted.

“If the assembly is not properly constituted, how can it dissolve itself,” he said.

Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday said that it is only through a complete constitutional reform that situations such as this could be avoided.

“First of all, I think the parties can get together and decide on a way forward either by sharing power by whatever means by an agreement. That way the president cannot do to them what Robinson did to me,” Panday said.