KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent: – Vincentians will vote on a new Constitution during a referendum on November 25, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves announced to Parliament Wednesday night.
“Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to announce that the date for the referendum, the election on which the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines would vote on this Bill, will be Wednesday, the 25th of November,” Dr Gonsalves said as Parliament ended three days of debate of the Constitution Bill 2009.
Dr. Gonsalves said that his government would table the Referendum Bill in Parliament on September 16.
He said that a long period was being given before the referendum vote, stating that general elections are usually announced three or four weeks before the poll.
Dr. Gonsalves said that in keeping with Section 38 of the existing Constitution, Vincentians would be asked to vote “Yes” or “No” on the proposed one.
“Now that the exercise is complete, persons would see that it wasn’t possible to do it any other way, by section by section, because this is how the process is followed, in accordance with … the existing Constitution,” he said.
Some Vincentians had proposed that citizens be given the option of voting on individual sections of the Constitution, rather than a single vote on the entire document.
Dr. Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration is hoping that the proposed Constitution will garner the required 66.67 percent of the valid votes in the referendum and replace the 30-year-old one left by former colonizers, the British. (Read the 1979 Constitution)
The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has reiterated its intentions to vote “No” and to campaign for a similar vote even as the governments said it would campaign for a “Yes” vote.
Leader of the Opposition and NDP president, Arnhim Eustace told Parliament on Tuesday that his party agreed with some sections of the proposed Constitution. (Read the proposed Constitution)
He however said that the constitution reform exercise had not met its “seminal challenge” of making the country a republic, reducing the powers of the prime minister and deepening the rights and freedoms of citizens.
“I am not getting carried away by all this talk about dramatic change, at all. We have our position on some of these matters and we maintain our position, and we will vote ‘No’ in relation to this piece of legislation…”
Dr. Gonsalves this week offered to step aside to ensure that the proposed Constitution passes.
The words “inalienable rights” have been added to the preamble of the document.
Eustace told Parliament on Tuesday that his party preferred a previous draft, which included the words “inalienable rights”.
And while Dr. Gonsalves said that the proposed Constitution was “by far, the best Constitution of its kind … any place in this world”, Eustace said that the die had been cast and that his party would vote “No” and encourage Vincentians to do so.
He challenged the prime minister to announce the date of the referendum.
While the NDP and ULP prepare to launch election-like campaigns this month, the People’s Movement for Change (PMC), a socio-political group her said that the referendum should be postponed until one year after the next general elections, due by December 2010.
The PMC suggested that Vincentians vote on the proposed new Constitution “at a time when both major parties will have the opportunity to think in the national interest rather than from a partisan vantage point”.
The proposed Constitution comes after six years of consultations with Vincentians at home and in the diaspora and the reform process was initially supported by both the government and opposition.