The hours-long efforts of Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas to salvage a motion on electoral reform came to naught in Parliament on Friday amidst hard-line stances on both sides of the aisle.
Friday’s meeting of Parliament was called especially to debate a motion tabled on April 23 by Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday.
The motion was originally scheduled for debate on May 9.
However, because of the amount of time spent on Obituaries and Congratulatory Remarks during that meeting of the legislature, lawmakers agreed with a suggestion by Prime Minster Ralph Gonsalves, to allocate four hours last Friday for the debate.
However, on Friday, after the opposition leader’s motion was put to a debate, Gonsalves rose and proposed an amendment which, in essence, expressed confidence in the electoral system.
Friday’s motion, which had been seconded by Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, an opposition lawmaker, urged changes to the nation’s election law.
It said that making changes to the Representation of the People Act and adopting other practical and effective measures will “ensure free and fair elections and restore public confidence in our electoral system”.
The motion fell apart after Thomas had suspended the sitting three times — once because of the intensity of the cross talk, another time to give members an opportunity to review Gonsalves’ proposed amendment, and a third time to allow opposition lawmakers to consult among themselves after the speaker ruled to allow the amendments to the motion.
There had been very intense debate about whether Gonsalves should be allowed to amend the opposition’s motion, with some opposition lawmakers banging on the table when Gonsalves was about to begin debate of the amended motion.
After much debate and some pointed questions at lawmakers, including the prime minister himself, Thomas ruled in favour of the amendment.
He said he was constrained by the rules of the House to allow the prime minister’s amendment, which had been seconded by Member of Parliament for South Central Windward, Saboto Caesar.
In staking out the position of opposition lawmakers after the third suspension, Friday said his side was willing to debate the amended motion only if, among other things, it included the “be it resolved clause” of his original motion.
That clause read, “BE IT RESOLVED that this Honourable House Support a motion to bring about necessary and desirable changes to the elections process in our country by amending The Representation Of the People Act and by adopting other practical and effective measures to ensure free and fair elections and restore public confidence in our electoral system.”
The four hours allocated to the debate expired without the motion or the amended motion going to a debate.