By Marcia Braveboy
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — November 4 is the day for the much-anticipated by-election in the constituency of St Joseph in Trinidad and Tobago.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the date in the parliament on Friday. She said her government is committed to the principle of holding elections when they are due.
This is the fourth election the people of Trinidad and Tobago will face in one year, an unprecedented occurrence.
In January this year, Tobagonians voted in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections, which saw a fourth straight win for the Orville London-led People’s National Movement (PNM). Then on April 29, the people of Chaguanas West were sent back to the polls in a by-election resulting from the resignation of the MP Jack Warner. Warner said he resigned in order to be revalidated. He convincingly won the seat in the United National Congress (UNC) heartland. Local government elections are set for October 21 and the people of St Joseph will again go to the polls on November 4 to elect a new member of parliament.
House Speaker Wade Mark declared the seat vacant earlier in the sitting on Friday, to for an election date had to be announced within 90 days from Mark’s announcement.
This is the second by-election the country is facing in just one year, barely three months after the Chaguanas West by-election won by former national security minister Jack Warner.
The second by-election has been triggered by fired minister of justice and St Joseph MP Herbert Volney’s decision to cross the floor from the UNC, the ticket under which he won the seat, to Warner’s newly formed Independent Liberal Party (ILP). Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar then asked Mark to declare the seat vacant. On September 9, the seat was declared vacant by the Speaker, but it was not challenged within the 14 days window given Volney to challenge Mark’s decision.
Volney had threatened legal action against the Speaker himself and vowed to go all the way to the Privy Council if he had to, to retain the seat, but back peddled and decided to bow out of electoral politics.
On her weekly television programme “Just Gill” on IETV channel 1 a few weeks ago, attorney-at-law and head of the Police Complaints Authority Gillian Lucky told her audience if Volney did not challenge the Speaker’s decision, a precedent could be set. The Crossing the Floor section of the constitution had been put to the test and an MP removed.
In his weekly column ‘My Write’ in the Sunshine newspaper owned by Warner, Volney said, “I am free”.
“I have chosen my own pathway, having refused to be drawn into the legal abyss of anyone’s agenda. I am free,” Volney wrote. He said he allowed an injustice to prevail, not for the first time, so that he is may turn over a new page of possibilities in his life.
Caribbean News Now understands that Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar was outplayed by Volney who made her believe he would challenge her decision to declare the seat vacant. A court battle could have seen the process go all the way to the 2015 general election, leaving the seat vacant till then. Volney announced instead that he was bowing out of electoral politics.
In her announcement, the prime minister also reiterated her 2010 campaign promise to bring two pieces of legislation for the debate to begin on the right to recall parliamentarians and term limits for prime ministers.
Persad-Bissessar said in parliament on Friday that the declaration of the vacancy in St Joseph is an exercise of parliament’s right to partial recall.