Friday, November 27, 2009

Vincentians reject new constitution

St. Vincent & the Grenadines (BBC) - The Vincentian government suffered a major defeat on Wednesday, in its bid introduce a new constitution for the country.

The Ralph Gonsalves administration in Kingstown was seeking the public’s permission to replace the charter adopted on independence in 1979, with a new set of laws.

One of the proposed changes under the draft document was for the removal of the British monarch as head of state in favour of a President.

Under a new constitution the Caribbean Court of Justice would also replace the London-based Privy Council as the island’s final court of appeal. The governing Unity Labour Party needed a two thirds majority for the change to take effect.

But the main opposition New Democratic Party had called on voters to reject the constitution, arguing it did not sufficiently reduce the powers of the prime minister.

Preliminary results from the electoral office showed that 55.6 percent of the votes cast were against the proposed charter, compared to 43.1 percent who endorsed it.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said he didn’t anticipate the result, adding that the people did not consider this was a document which they should support.

“We were engaged in a noble enterprise, we did not succeed from the ‘yes’ campaign at the polls to persuade the majority of those who went to vote that the constitution was worthy of being changed and this (new) one was worthy of being supported,” Gonsalves said.

Though disappointed, Gonsalves conceded that the opposition ran ‘a very spirited campaign’ and was able to mobilise their voters to support their position.

“It was also a sense that people had some grievances against the government or from their representatives,” Gonsalves said.

Opposition leader Arnhim Eustace said while there is a need for constitutional reform, there are still a number of issues that must be addressed.

“I’m happy with the decision taken because we felt that there are too many difficult issues that are outstanding and need resolution in the proposed constitution,” Eustace said. However he did not rule out future discussion on constitution reform.

But political commentator Renwick Rose told BBC Caribbean that Wednesday’s vote represents a setback for the constitution process.

He also believes the result will have implications for local politics.

“I think what it indicates is not just a rejection of the constitution, but also some serious questions will be raised on whether it was a referendum on the government itself and on the prime minister.

“It means then that one year away from the end of the life of the parliament the opposition now can claim that they had a decisive majority from the people,” Rose said.

The results make for a telling story – the No vote dominated in thirteen of the fifteen constituencies.

While the No and Yes votes were separated by a few hundred votes in the majority of the constituencies, there were a few where the gap between the two was huge.

In the Northern Grenadines for example the No vote was just over 2,000 to the mere 353 people who voted yes.

The Southern Grenadines was also firmly in the No camp, with more than a thousand No votes there, to the 466 Yes votes.

The Yes campaign didn’t do any better in Central Kingstown where the No camp received 1020 votes more than they did.

East Kingstown was also impressive for the No vote campaigners.

The Yes vote had its best showing in North Central Windward, the prime minister’s constituency. Two thousand, four hundred and fifty-one people there voted yes – almost three times more than the 836 who opted to make their “x” against the proposed change.

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