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MPs should listen to people

Thursday, March 3, 2011
Israel Khan on defeat of hanging bill:
Basdeo Panday

At Monday’s sitting of the Parliament, the Opposition withheld its support to pass the Constitution (Amendment) (Capital Offences) Bill 2011 to allow for the resumption of the death penalty. The bill required a three-quarters majority to pass or the support of 30 Members of Parliament. All 29 Government MPs voted for it, whereas the 11 Opposition members present voted against it. This was the first major legislative defeat for the nine-month-old People’s Partnership Government. The Government cannot bring the bill before Parliament for another six months. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she would reintroduce the bill during the second session of the current Parliament, which is set to start after June 18. Following are the comments from some prominent members of the public:

Israel Khan

Senior Counsel Israel Khan says it’s time for Parliament to start listening to the people, instead of playing politics. He said the Opposition’s choice not to support the bill was political and contradictory to its declaration of supporting all measures to curb crime. He added: “One would have thought the Opposition would have supported a bill that correctly categorised murder.” Khan said in order for the bill to be passed both the Government and Opposition needed to come together and draft a Parliament bill.

Leela Ramdeen

Chairperson of the Catholic Commission of Social Justice Leela Ramdeen said she was happy the bill had not been passed. However, she would have liked to see the section that categorises murder into first, second and third degree passed. She said, as an abolitionist, she felt categorisation would have prevented some murderers from facing execution.

Sat Maharaj

Secretary general of the Maha Sabah Sat Maharaj said it was a mistake by the Opposition not to support the bill. Maharaj, who openly supported the implementation of the death penalty, criticised the Opposition of turning Monday’s debate into a “political circus” when all indicators showed the majority of the public was in support of the death sentence. He said: “It was a mistake. The people wanted it.” Maharaj said all polls, both scientific and media, showed the majority of the population was in support of the death sentence.

Basdeo Panday

Former prime minister Basdeo Panday said the constitution needed to be reformed. He said the collapse of the bill was simply politics, in that the Opposition’s position was to disagree with Government and not make it “look good.” He said in that context and under the current constitution the interest of people played little part in the decisions of the Parliament.

Ramesh Deosaran

Former Independent senator and professor of criminology and public safety, Ramesh Deosaran, said the collapse of the death penalty debate had put both the Government and the Opposition “between a rock and a hard place.” He said the public would now ask the Government: “Why it could not accommodate the Opposition’s suggestions, in particular, the one that sought the right to petition to international bodies placed in a separate act outside the constitution.” He said the Opposition would now be asked why it was not satisfied with the concessions made by the Government.

Bishnu Ragoonath

Political scientist Bishnu Ragoonath said the collapse of the death penalty debate now left both the Government and Opposition to answer to the public. He said what would most likely happen would be that the Government would now have to take the debate outside of Parliament and rally the support of influential figures and the public. He said there was good chance murders, such as the recent death of eight-year-old Daniel Guerra, would be politicised to gain support and put pressure on the Opposition. (Reporting by Alicia Llanos)


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