TAIPEI, Taiwan: – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) says that other Caribbean nations do not trust their citizens and are afraid to go to them with a constitution referendum.
He also blamed the former Eric Gary administration in Grenada for the two-third majority needed to amend the constitutions of some Caribbean countries.
Gonsalves made the statements at a rally organized by his Unity Labour Party on St. Vincent’s east coast on Sunday.
The rally was part of his administration and party’s efforts to secure the 67 percent majority needed to pass a proposed revised constitution at a referendum on November 25.
“I want to say to you that there is no country in the Caribbean that anyone has gone to the people with a referendum, a referendum election to ask them to change a constitution,” he said during the rally broadcast live on radio and the Internet.
“People are afraid. You know why they are afraid? They don’t trust their own people, even where the referendum is calling only for 50 percent plus one,” he added.
Vincentians will vote to amend the 1979 constitution left by the British when the nation gained independence.
A two-third majority, or 66.7 percent of the votes validly cast during the referendum, is needed to adopt the proposed constitution, which comes at the end of six years of consultation with citizens at home and in the diaspora.
“Understand this, the first place that the British imposed two-thirds for a referendum was in Grenada because of [former Prime Minister Sir Eric] Gairy in 1974,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that some Caribbean nations, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Bahamas, and Guyana only needed 50 percent plus one vote to amend their constitutions while Barbados, Trinidad and Belize don’t require a referendum.
“So, it is the Gairy regime, the violence of that regime and the bizarre autocracy that existed in Grenada, why the British imposed that.”
Gonsalves said that because of the two-thirds majority requirement, “you can have a recalcitrant minority to stop the good things from happening and that’s why, in the new constitution we say 60 percent.”
He said that in SVG, where a 67 percent majority is required to change the constitution, his government was not afraid to seek an amendment.
“And we are not afraid to come to the people and say give us 67 percent, give yourself 67 percent, give yourself a gift of the best constitution possible anywhere in the world to govern us,” he said.
Both the government and the opposition New Democratic Party have launched “Vote Yes” and “Vote No” referendum campaigns respectively.
Gonsalves in his address recounted the history of SVG under colonial rule and repeated many of the point he had made in previous speeches regarding why Vincentians should vote “yes”.
He said that the proposed constitution was “grounded in the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and not the Queen”.
“What are we to tell the children, that someone who is not of us hold the most elevated position in our country?
“[The Queen] represents an elitism and an alien set of ideas not connected to the soul and the bosom of our people and we have to free ourselves from these restraints,” he said.
Gonsalves said that the proposed constitution reflects five paramount constitutional doctrines: the enhancement of fundamental rights and freedoms; the strengthening of the rule of law; the bolstering of the separation of powers; it extends and deepens parliamentary democracy “in a manner nowhere else anywhere in the parliamentary system anywhere in the world”; and, it presents “the most advanced framework of good governance available in any parliamentary system anywhere in the world”.