The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – General Election 2018: A Postscript II
In the first part of this essay last week, we sought to isolate some of the factors contributory to the unprecedented result of the recent general election. While we advanced the thesis that it was owed to a multiplicity of factors, including a loss of national pride that would have irked more than a few; the dire economic circumstances irritated by the ostentatious lifestyles of some officials; and the woeful failure of the government to engage in dialogue with the citizenry, thereby inducing a lack of, the necessary trust and confidence between the governed and the governors, the electoral obliteration of the governing Democratic Labour Party [DLP] administration may also be attributed to those elements of classic Greek tragedy that appears to befall all political parties after a decade or so in authority.
Administrations, over time, tend to become hubristic in spite of themselves and this is inevitably followed by Nemesis or retribution. According to one writer, “Hubris encompasses words and phrases like the following —overweening pride; self-glorification; arrogance, overconfidence in one’s ability and right to do whatever one wants, to the point of disdaining the cardinal virtues of life; ignoring other people’s feelings; overstepping boundaries; and impiously defying all who stand in the way. The term Nemesis denotes the ancient Greek goddess of retribution and the retributions attributed to her. The term nemesis is used to refer to the dynamics of retribution in general…Acts of hubris aroused envy among the gods on Mt. Olympus and angered them to restore justice and equilibrium. Nemesis, the goddess of divine vengeance and retribution, might then descend to destroy the vainglorious pretender, to cut man down to size and restore equilibrium”.
This Hellenic worldview of retribution, so brilliantly expounded in their works by dramatists such as Sophocles and Aeschylus, might explain the phenomenon of periodic administration change by the popular vote, although I have also read of a less lofty, more earthy ascription of this changing to the eerie comparison between politicians in general and dirty diapers.
Today, I should wish to focus less on the reasons for the electoral rout and more on the sequelae to its occurrence. Indeed, it might not be incorrect to assert that the past eight or nine days since May 25 have been the most politically and constitutionally intriguing in this nation since Independence and probably in my lifetime.
The result of the election would have meant that there was no readily apparent Leader of the Opposition in the House of Assembly, a reality that also impacted the constitution of the Upper House since it was not made clear by the unhappily drafted section 75 of our constitution whether the remit of appointing Opposition senator fell, as averred by some, to the Governor General, or whether the matter required constitutional amendment in light of the provision’s lack of clarity. The latter is a view that I espoused last week in a column entitled An unforeseen event and was one seemingly shared by the government, even if only ex abundanti cautela (out of an abundance of caution).
The proposal to amend the Constitution has now been overtaken by another unforeseen event, the Thursday late-night announcement that His Grace Bishop Joseph Atherley, the elected member for St Michael West [BLP], had resigned from the BLP parliamentary group and would no longer support the government in Parliament. While he did not state this in so many words, this is precisely the legal consequence of his move, hence he became the lone member in opposition to the government in the Lower House and thus entitled to be Leader of the Opposition. He was duly sworn in on Friday.
Wags and political commentators will have a field day hereafter analyzing the rationale for this development, but it could possibly mean that for the first time since Independence, the DLP will be bereft of a parliamentary voice, unless Bishop Atherley who has the unfettered discretion of selecting the two Senators allotted to the parliamentary Opposition chooses one such.
Even before that, however, a less politically engaging, though much more constitutionally intriguing, event occurred. It was discovered that of the twelve Senators nominated to that Chamber by the Government, two could not be sworn in as scheduled, because they had failed to satisfy the criterion mandated in section 37 that requires as being qualified to be a Senator, “any person who has been ordinarily resident in Barbados for the immediately preceding twelve months…” provided he or she is not otherwise disqualified by section 38.
The governing Mottley administration has naturally proposed a constitutional amendment to treat this hiccup and while there would be few who would seek to deny the government this facility, it is not as simple as it would appear at first blush.
It so happens that this section has been entrenched in the Constitution and, by section 49 (2)(d), “a Bill for an Act of Parliament under this section that alters that section…shall not be passed in either House unless at the final voting thereon in the House it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members of the House. [Emphasis added]
What this entails is that both Houses must be fully constituted and there will therefore be the need to replace the two outliers, Ms Mc Conney and Mr Adams, with two other Senators pro tempore [for the time being] in order to ensure a full Senate. I do not imagine that volunteers for this purpose would be few in number, however.
I am not aware of the draftsman’s purpose for imposing the residency requirement in our Constitution, but the other Constitution to which I frequently refer for comparative purposes, The Trinidad & Tobago Constitution 1976, imposes no such restriction. According to section 41-
Subject to section 42, a person shall be qualified to be appointed as a Senator if, and shall not be qualified to be so appointed unless, he is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago of the age of twenty-five years or upwards.
I imagine that our amendment will be in similar, though not identical form.