ON THE MATTER of postponing a general election, whose call is it?
In response to a request from a political party, President Paula-Mae Weekes gave one answer.
In relation to Section 34 of the Representation of the People Act, Ms Weekes pointed to its umbrella title: “Government authorised to adjourn polling day in event of emergency.” She saw this as evidence that the initial step of postponing an election is to be taken by the Executive.
Indeed, the law says such postponement is to happen under certain conditions, one of which is a state of emergency, something only Cabinet can declare.
Yet the President also saw the legislation as giving her power to act on her own accord. It lists “outbreak of infectious disease” as one criterion justifying an adjournment. To her mind, this means she has to assess the situation and act on her discretion, not necessarily the advice of Cabinet.
“I remain vigilant and responsive to any significant change in circumstances,” Ms Weekes assured in correspondence addressed to Phillip Edward Alexander, the Progressive Empowerment Party’s leader, who made the request.
But questioned on these matters on Friday, the Prime Minister gave a different kind of answer.
“That’s a conversation for outside, we don’t have that conversation,” Dr Rowley said at a religious function in the morning. Addressing the nation in the afternoon, he reiterated, “We have an election coming up two Mondays from now.”
The riddle of presidential authority remained unsolved.
A third response came on Tuesday from the Opposition UNC. Any postponement, the party said, has to be done by the President with no involvement from the Executive. This partly contradicts the President’s view.
All of this is complicated by the fact that generally a president acts on the advice of Cabinet except when given explicit authority to act alone. Is this one of those situations?
By the President’s own admission, the Cabinet takes the initial step, so should her discretion really come into play given the spirit of the law?
There are further questions.
If postponed, for how long? The act says no more than 30 days. But can there be multiple postponements? What is the role of the EBC?
To our mind, the question of the timing of an election is properly a matter for elected representatives. That means the Government and/or Opposition MPs, not an unelected, non-executive president.
If the law has grey areas, there needs to be co-operation on this between parties. Alternatively, it might mean an emergency amendment to the law. Parliament can be recalled.
This conversation must prompt discussion on the hustings on another clearly needed thing: constitutional reform to clarify the powers of a president.