There are two Constitutional matters that I think need cleared up as a result of the PLP Leadership question here; one of them is a purely procedural one relating to the Disciplinary Committee, and the other is a more fundamental issue concerning conflicting constitutions.
The Disciplinary Committee
Much has been said in the media and the BIAW forum regarding the stated intent of the Party Executive to investigate whether or not the Disciplinary Committee should be invoked regarding the rasing of the Leadership question in last weeks Parliamentary Caucus. Many people, including MP Mr. Perinchief in the RG (We Won’t Be Muzzled) have looked at this move as a one of intimidation and symptomatic of dictatorial tendencies. While I can see how this can be spun in such a way, from what has been reported in the media, and by Mr. Perinchief himself, this is a mistaken view.
The motion that was put to the Parliamentary Caucus was not to discuss the issue of Party Leadership. Rather the motion was to replace the Party Leadership by threatening to disregard the PLP’s Constitution and instead playing poli-tricks with the Bermuda Constitution. Under the Bermuda Constitution it is not the Party that selects the Premier, but rather the majority of elected MPs. Under the PLP Constitution it is not the elected MPs that select the Leader (who becomes the Premier or Opposition Leader as per the PLP Constitution), but the Annual Delegates Convention. The Delegates are composed of Party branch representatives, Youth Wing representatives and elected MPs. The UBP Constitution – I understand – reflects the Bermuda Constitution in restricting the vote to elected MPs; the PLP has long prided themselves in having a greater democratic element to their system.
Furthermore, the PLP Constitution clearly outlines how to go about a Leadership challenge, and clearly states how the Disciplinary Committee may be invoked to investigate and take action regarding members who act contrary to the Constitution.
The move in the Parliamentary Caucus to challenge the leadership was in direct contravention of the PLP Constitution. As such the members acted contrary to the PLP Constitution, and the invoking of the Disciplinary Committee is therefore legitimate. Had the motion been simply to discuss the leadership – and this is what instead passed – then there would be no justification for the Disciplinary Committee to be invoked. Any talk, especially by those directly involved in the process, that the invoking of the Disciplinary Committee is an attempt to ‘muzzle’ discussion of the leadership question, is either based on ignorance of the PLP’s Constitution, or direct misrepresentation – playing to the gallery – of fact.
The fact is that the attempt was unconstitutional as per the PLP Constitution, and the Disciplinary Committee as laid out in the PLP Constitution has the remit and justification to act accordingly.
Seriously, I have no issues with discussing the Leadership, and having frank and critical discussions about the PLP’s policies, direction, strategy and tactics. Thats one of the core objectives of this site. But this move comes across as very poorly planned, and, quite frankly, unconstitutional. It would have been far better to develop a strategy for the 2009 Delegates Convention, while using backbench tactics to force compromises in the meantime and build support for a leadership challenge at the Delegates Convention. While the next scheduled leadership challenge is not until the 2010 Delegates Convention, a Leadership Challenge can be invoked at any time by a Special Delegates Convention or at a regular Delegates Convention. The play so far has been a bizarre opening gambit, and based on short-term tactics without evaluating positions and planning a long-term plans for future play. In other words its been devoid of strategy and looks likely to fail. One would have expected a better game to be honest.
A Tale of Two Constitutions?
The more fundamental problem brought up by this incident is the fact that the PLP Constitution can be undermined by the Bermudian Constitution as regards who is the Premier. The move to challenge the leadership in the Parliamentary Caucus directly invoked the Bermudian Constitution and how it states the Premier is chosen by the majority of MPs as a justification. This is contrary to the PLP Constitution that has proudly allowed for greater participation in choosing the Leader by including Branch delegates in the decision.
This was first highlighted in the immediate 2003 post-election ‘palace coup’ that forced a leadership change. A precedent was then made, and it is hypocritical of those who benefitted from that tactic to today condemn it as unconstitutional. But it was, and is, unconstitutional, and should be condemned today just as it was then. The late Lois Browne-Evans at the time advocated the expulsion of those MPs – as was warranted by the PLP Constitution – but a desire to not lose power after so many years in Opposition resulted in the compromise Premiership of Mr. Scott. Personally, while I can understand the desire to compromise, I think it was a mistake, and the precedent that it set has been festering away since.
Strictly in a constitutional legal sense, the palace coup of 2003 and the current move of 2009 are perfectly legitimate. That doesn’t make it right, and that phrase ‘unethical but not illegal’ that has been haunting the Party since the BHC scandal finds its voice again with this move.
The question for the Party, and it has to be a self-conscious one, is which constitution should be followed? Should the PLP Constitution, warts and all, which allows for greater democratic participation take precedence? Or should the Bermuda Constitution, warts and all, which allows for greater parliamentary efficiency, take precedence?
Personally, I support the more democratic and participatory PLP Constitution. More ideally I would support a more fundamental redesign of our political system. This blog considers itself within the Luxemburgist school of Marxism, and as such is close to Council Communism in its vision for a bottom-up social and economic democracy.