History will be created  if referendum succeeds
October 2, 2009
History will be created if referendum succeeds

If Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves gets Vincentians to approve the new Constitution in two months he will make Caribbean history.{{more}}

It will be the first referendum in an English-speaking Caribbean country to succeed.

This fact became clear at a lecture on referenda last Thursday by Mr. Justice Adrian Saunders of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) at the University of the West Indies Open Campus in Kingstown.

When Vincentians go to the polls in the November 25 referendum to approve or reject a new constitution, they join Jamaica and The Bahamas as the only English speaking Caribbean countries to have had a referendum, Saunders revealed.

In both cases, the voters returned majority “no” votes at the polls.

Jamaica was first in 1961, when the people were faced with the question of remaining in, or withdrawing from, the West Indies Federation, which included nine other British territories.

On September 19 that year, the Jamaican people chose not to remain in the Federation, which among other things led to its collapse and saw Jamaica gaining Independence in 1962.

The next referendum took place 41 years later on February 27 2002, when Bahamians went to the polls to decide on five constitutional amendments.

These issues included the question of the creation of an independent election boundaries commission, the creation of an independent parliamentary commissioner, that gender discriminating language should be removed from the constitution to allow children born to Bahamian mothers and foreign fathers to have Bahamian citizenship, the increase in the retirement age of judges and the creation of a commission to monitor the standards of teachers in that country.

Despite requiring only a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one, none of the points received the nod of Bahamians.

Another trend identified by Justice Saunders in both countries was that the political parties in power at the time of the referenda were removed from office when the next general elections were held.

Justice Saunders said this may have been a clear sign of persons voting along partisan political lines.

The regional jurist told guests at the lecture it was his opinion that the two-thirds majority (66.67%) required for the vote to pass was too high.

He noted that this high threshold might have been a reflection of the reservation of legislators in the United Kingdom at the time the constitution was written, on the judgment of local politicians when it came to changing the existing provisions.

Saunders said he considered the 60 per cent requirement proposed in the new constitution may be too high as well, noting that in many countries the simple majority of 50 per cent plus one was the norm. (JJ)