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VALIDATING THE RUN-OFF SYSTEM

Published: 
Sunday, July 3, 2016

Last Sunday, the Tobago Council elections of the PNM were held for the posts of political leader and chairman. What was most interesting was that the PNM had amended its constitution in April this year to permit the introduction of the one person-one vote system as well as the application of the runoff method to settle inconclusive results for the post of political leader of the Tobago Council in cases where no one earned more than 50 per cent of the votes cast.

I commented on this earlier this year in my Sunday column on April 10 instant. At that time, I highlighted the fact that the PNM had been opposed to the run-off system when it was introduced in a constitution reform bill in the Parliament in August 2014. Back in 2014, there was run-off rage generated by the PNM who led the charge to oppose the measure despite the fact that they had introduced it in 2012 as part of the reform of their party’s constitution.

In 2016, according to Orville London:

“It is possible with six candidates that the winning candidate might get 30 per cent of the vote. And we are saying that a leader with 30 per cent of the electorate is not going to have the credibility to run the Tobago Council and, by extension, to go into an election with any degree of confidence that he or she has support…You must have a leader in whom the majority of people have confidence.” (Express, Monday, April 4, 2016, p 22).

Back in 2014, the process of having a run-off election for MPs who did not earn 50 per cent plus one vote at the polls was deemed to be undemocratic. Fast forward to 2016 and the system has now been blessed and deemed to be a fit and proper way to elect the Tobago leader. What a difference a couple years and a shift from opposition to government can make.

The results of the race for political leader of the PNM Tobago Council were:

Kelvin Charles – 1,289

Tracy Davidson-Celestine – 1,070

Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus – 679

Rennie Dumas – 603

Handel Beckles – 153

Trevor Craig – 66

Cynthia Alfred – 51

That outcome fell more or less in line with the prediction by Orville London back in April. As a consequence, the run-off election to be held today will see Kelvin Charles and Tracy Davidson-Celestine facing off to determine who will become the political leader of the PNM Tobago Council.

In this instance, the period between the two elections is one week. In the constitution reform bill in August 2014, the proposed period was 15 days between elections in those cases where no candidate was able to secure more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. 

Today will be a fresh election so that no one will know who will vote for whom. One can presume that those who voted for either Charles or Davidson-Celestine will vote for them again. The key issue to be determined is who will those who voted for Angus, Dumas, Beckles, Craig and Alfred vote for today. Additionally, how many of those who did not come out to vote last Sunday will come out to vote today?

As this is a fresh election, the campaign tactics have to be adjusted to woo other voters who either voted for someone else or did not vote at all last week. As this is the first time that the run-off system is actually going to be tested in the local political process, it will be interesting to see what the actual outcome will be. It is ironic that the party that was so vehemently opposed to the run-off system for the national constitution should implement it for its own constitution.

The underlying importance and value of the run-off system is that it provides a final outcome with a majority winner. In many respects, it is just as if last Sunday was a primary election and today is the general election. Of course, if someone had won more than 50 per cent of the votes cast last Sunday, there would have been no election today.

This run-off election represents a significant culture change for our political process that has been anchored on a British model of plurality outcomes. In arguing against the run-off system then opposition MP Colm Imbert said:

“And the countries that have it like France, they have a presidential system, Mr Speaker, they follow the Napoleonic Code. Their laws are not based on English common law. It is a completely different system. (Interruption) Yes, the entire court system, the judicial system, the administration of justice, they are based on that Napoleonic Code, completely different to our English common law system.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, August 11, 2014, p 336).

Thankfully, one political party was eventually able to accept the reform for its own internal use complete with the culture change after a shift from ignorance to enlightenment. Today, the validation of the run-off system will be completed. Hopefully, majority elections will become part of our political culture.

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