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A consensus president

Sunday, January 14, 2018

For the third time in our presidential history, both a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition signed the nomination form for a presidential candidate to be elected by the Electoral College.

On February 4, 1987, the then leader of the Opposition, Patrick Manning, co-signed the nomination form for Mr Justice Noor Hassanali together with Prime Minister ANR Robinson and a number of his NAR MPs who were elected in a 33-3 electoral victory in December 1986.

Hassanali was elected by the Electoral College on February 16, 1987 and was sworn into office on March 19, 1987.

Indeed, by Act No 1 of 1987, the Parliament had to make provision for the postponement of the dates on which the Electoral College could sit and nomination forms be submitted for the presidency owing to the closeness of the general election of December 16, 1986 and the date of expiration of the term of office of then president Ellis Clarke.

That postponement has permitted the President to be sworn into office in March of the five-year cycle for the presidency with 2002 being the only year when no such ceremony could have been held as there was no Speaker elected in the Parliament that attempted to assemble after the 18-18 tied general election result of December 2001.

On February 7, 1992, President Hassanali was again nominated on a bi-partisan basis as his nomination form was co-signed by then prime minister Patrick Manning and then opposition leader Basdeo Panday.

They were joined by the following PNM MPs: Kenneth Valley, Wendell Mottley, Keith Sobion, Augustus Ramrekersingh and Keith Rowley. The following UNC MPs also signed the form: Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Carl Singh, Raymond Pallackdharrysingh, Sham Mohammed and Hulsie Bhaggan.

After the boycott of the first sitting of the Electoral College in January 1977 by Basdeo Panday and his ULF colleagues when President Ellis Clarke was elected the first time, these 1987 and 1992 precedents where both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition co-signed the nomination forms for Noor Hassanali seemed to have settled the selection of nominees in a bi-partisan manner.

However, in January 1997, the UNC-NAR coalition government that had been elected in an early snap general election in 1995 nominated one of its ministers, ANR Robinson, as their presidential candidate.
The Opposition PNM refused to support the nomination on the ground that it would object to a sitting parliamentarian becoming the President.

The PNM nominated Justice Anthony Lucky as their choice and there was the first-ever contested election for the presidency which was won by Robinson.

He took office in March 1997 and served until March 2003 (one extra year owing to the inability of the Electoral College to meet in 2002).

Robinson was succeeded by Prof George Maxwell Richards who passed way last week. Prof Richards was the PNM’s nominee and he too faced a contested election against the UNC nominee Ganace Ramdial.

President Richards assumed office on March 17, 2003. He was unopposed for his second term which ended on March 17, 2013.

In 2013 there were no consensus signatures on the nomination form for President Anthony Carmona as the Opposition PNM had made an announcement prior to the presidential nomination day that their choice was Mr Justice Rolston Nelson of the CCJ. However, once the nomination process was complete, the PNM did not oppose the Carmona nomination.

The 2018 nomination of Madam Justice Paula-Mae Weekes has recalled the two consensus nominations of President Hassanali. Despite the bitter divisions between the PNM and the UNC in the parliamentary chamber and on the battlefield of T&T’s politics, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were able to co-sign her nomination form.

This was a most positive development that demonstrated that consensus is possible between our main parties despite policy differences elsewhere.


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