Trinidad and Tobago is a Republic Part-1
Now after getting a link to a segment from the Rick Mercer Report titled “Everything you wanted to know about Canada but were afraid to ask” from my friend Mauri who is a Canadian citizen who spent most of his childhood to young adult life in Trinidad and Tobago. It got me into thinking, how many citizens really know about Trinidad and Tobago’s political system? This spurred me to blog, about T&T Politics in that spirit I’m going to give various political and demographic facts about my nation and then we’ll spin into the ups and downs according to me…please feel free to comment as that way we can have multiple views and maybe a healthy discussion.
IN THE PAST
We were a Commonwealth Nation up until 1962 at which point we became Independent, to be a Commonwealth in the English language is literally synonymous with Republic since it means “for the common wealth” but in my observation and opinion, it means in modern “Political English” that the head of state is a monarch who belongs to another sovereign nation. What I am really referring to is a Colony in which we were so in summation what I am saying is that in practical use Commonwealth is more synonymous with Colony than it is to Republic. In Trinidad and Tobago’s case we were a commonwealth/colony of England, the Queen was our head of state, and in her stead, a Governor General ruled us.
Upon 31st August 1962 Trinidad and Tobago declared the right to be self-governed and proclaimed Sovereignty over its territory and ripped down the offending Union Jack Flag of England and hoisted the Flag of Trinidad and Tobago… well actually we didn’t have a violent revolution or anything…. The Honourable Eric Williams aka “The Father of the Nation” proposed Independence to England and England said “Sure, whatever!” I suspect it was not fashionable to have so many commonwealth nations any more and more likely it was not economically viable to continue to have us as a commonwealth/colony anyway, I would even further speculate that it was probably their idea to begin with…cheeky English. But hey we were tipping the curve after all, countries like Canada are still commonwealth/colony nations although Canada is really a “Constitutional Monarchy” but as I said earlier by my definition of commonwealth they still have to say “God Save the Queen” and she is their head of state and the Monarch of England so blech!! .
So, after the 31st August 1962 when we gained Independence, we did not become a Republic until 1st August 1976… About fourteen (14) years after Independence… I think that a lot of paper work had to be done and you know how we are with paperwork, it will be done when it is done! Nevertheless, despite the wait we became a REPUBLIC…Although the head of our Legislature is the Privy Council of England. Therefore despite being an Independent republic the highest court in our land is the high court found in another sovereign nation… as I said these things have a lot of paper work and since 1976 to 2011 thirty-five (35) years later we have not gotten around to fixing that… it will be done when it is done!
WE ARE A REPUBLIC!
WE ARE A REPUBLIC! which means (in theory at least) that the people have ultimate control over the government and offices of state are elected or chosen by the people, in average person terms we are not ruled by a monarch!!! There are one hundred and ninety six (196) countries in the today’s world (I am including countries like the Vatican and Taiwan in my count), out of these countries one hundred and fifty (150) are Republics. Further to this, we are a UNITARY REPUBLIC this is philosophically important because since about the 15th century there has been about one hundred and fifty (150) countries that have enjoyed the title of a Unitary Republic further to note about one hundred and thirty-five (135) still enjoy Unitary Republic status to date.
To be a unitary republic means that you are governed constitutionally as one whole unit, now for some people to appreciate this I have to compare that fact to a “first world” country… lets take The United States of America while they are a Republic, they are not a Unitary Republic. they are a “Federal Republic” which means that the states that form the United States of America enjoy a degree of autonomy which is protected by the constitution that “unifies” them.
DID YOU GET THAT DEMOCRACY I SENT YOU?
Another piece of this pie is DEMOCRACY! The greatest thing since slice bread except that it is not, I like how Winston Churchill talked about democracy “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” . I see it as the best thing that we can practically achieve to some degree of success as human beings, which holds some sort of opportunity and fairness for everyone but yet is dispassionate enough to be objective.
The ultimate tenant or ideal of democracy is generally defined as “a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.” That is a mouthful and very altruistic however the proof is in the pudding, how does one achieve this? well, there are many forms of Democracy, thirty-three (33) flavours to be exact (yes people there is no one generic blend that everyone follows). However, Trinidad and Tobago has a Representative Democracy in which a group of people elect a person… to well… represent them.
The way we have done this is to divide Trinidad and Tobago into forty-one (41) electoral districts in which all the people over the age of eighteen (18) would elect a representative for that electoral district via a ballot system. In actuality in Trinidad and Tobago people vote for the party, they want to win and the person who they want to be Prime Minister, since the Prime Minister is typically the leader of the political party that wins. I have never heard someone saying that Jane or John Doe cannot represent my interest in parliament. They just put the X next to the party symbol. Again in my opinion, the political parties in response to this simply puts a person who is popular in that district and in good standing with the party to be a representative, if that person happens to be qualified then great even better! Now I am not saying that Party and Prime Minister should not be a part of one’s decision making process but I often feel that the important issue of selecting a representative fit to represent you and your area/group is often not taken into account.
So on Election Day everyone who is eligible to vote goes out and cast their ballot for the representative of the party. That representative who wins the most votes then becomes a Minister of Parliament (MP), the party that wins a clear electoral majority by having the most elected representatives then becomes the Government and the head of that party traditionally becomes the Prime Minister (PM). It must be noted that is not necessary for the Prime Minister to win his district thus, you can have a prime minister who is not an MP… I will come back to this later we have not even begun to explore the flaws in this.
The party who wins the second most districts then becomes the Opposition. However, this is where things can get interesting if the government ever loses the political majority, which can happen if ministers “Cross the Floor” or if other parties form a coalition then it is back to the polls. These phenomena have happened before, to “Cross the Floor” in the traditional sense means that if a duly elected Minister(s) of Parliament who belongs to the government decides to join the opposition. In “Crossing the Floor”, the government loses the electoral majority we go “back to the polls”, “crossing the floor” does not automatically mean that we have to vote again, once the government continues to enjoy the majority but it will raise eyebrows to the leadership of the government. It has occurred where Ministers of Parliament “cross the floor” and didn’t join the opposition but simply became independents or even formed their own party (well in a sense they did but not really, but theoretically it can happen).
Phew this is a good place to end for now tune in next time same bat place same bat channel.