The anticipation in the House of Assembly on Tuesday morning was seething. The media had already got wind of the opposition’s intent to walk out of the House if the government did not nominate a deputy speaker from its ranks. It would not be the first time the Opposition had walked out in a fit but in this election charged atmosphere this kind of move meant headlines for reporters looking for a political angle to stories. The issue of the day was that all the government parliamentarians were members of Cabinet and were therefore not eligible for nomination.
The former deputy speaker, Marcus Nicholas, who is also the Dennery North MP, resigned his post in the House of Assembly on August 29. He now sits as an independent MP alongside Micoud North MP Jeannine Compton-Antoine.
Nicholas walked into the House on Tuesday to be met with cheers from the opposition MP’s and looks of amusement from his former party colleagues.
The first issue of business on the Order Paper for the day was the election of a deputy Speaker. Speaker Dr Rosemary Husbands-Mathurin invited nominations for the post and was met with silence throughout the entire Chamber.
She said, “Members, I take notice that the House has given sufficient evidence that it is not convenient to elect a deputy speaker at this time.”
Castries East MP Philip J Pierre interjected to request the Speaker explain the reasons for postponing the election of a deputy speaker to the next sitting of parliament.
The Speaker said, “The House has put forward no nominations for deputy Speaker. How am I supposed to proceed? The government has not put forward a nomination. The independents have not put forward a nomination. The opposition has not put forward a nomination. The House is not prepared to elect a deputy Speaker at this time.”
Pierre asserted the Speaker’s decision was “out of order.” In spite of the accusation, the Speaker held her ground saying “I understand the political realities before me but I must be allowed to make a decision on what the interpretation of the Constitution is. Every member of this House has given evidence that this
is not a convenient time to do it . . . I now give notice to the House that the election of the deputy Speaker will be on the order paper of the next sitting and the House will find it convenient to resolve the matter.”
Pierre accused the House of engaging in illegalities and said, “It is almost prostitution this honourable House.”
Despite the accusations, the Speaker stated that the business of the people will continue.
Opposition Leader Dr Kenny Anthony stood to announce that the Speaker’s ruling was an “issue of lawfulness.” He disputed that Section 35 of the Constitution does not deal with the operational procedure currently facing the House. Section 35(3) states: “No business shall be transacted in the House (other than the election of a Speaker) at any time when the office of Speaker is vacant.”
It goes further to say in subsection (6): “At any time when, by virtue of section 34(3) of this Constitution, the Speaker is unable to perform the functions of his office, those functions shall, until he vacates his seat in the House or resumes the performance of the function of his office, be performed by the Deputy Speaker or, if the office of Deputy Speaker is vacant or the Deputy Speaker is required to cease to perform his function as a member of the House by virtue of that subsection, by such member of the House (not being a member of the Cabinet or a Parliamentary Secretary) as the House may elect for the purpose.”
Anthony further proposed the House deal with Section 36 of the Constitution which says: “(1) When the House first meets after any general election of members and before it proceeds to the despatch of any other business except the election of the Speaker, the House shall elect a member of the House, who is not a member of the Cabinet or a Parliamentary Secretary, to be Deputy Speaker of the House and if the office of Deputy Speaker falls vacant at any time before the next dissolution of Parliament, the House shall, as soon as convenient, elect another member of the House to that office.”
The opposition leader accused the Speaker of using her position to further the agenda of the ruling party, a claim the Speaker firmly refuted.
In the uproar that followed, the opposition members refused to stay seated and stood in their positions, making it clear they had no intention of taking part in the people’s business of the day. In light of this, the Speaker took no issue with their protest and continued the business of the House as usual. Having been ignored, the opposition staged a walk out with its leader shouting in protest while Prime Minister Stephenson King was on his feet laying papers in his name.
The Speaker stopped the prime minister to “allow the disorder to leave the Chamber.” Philip J Pierre was the lone opposition MP left. He gave a short speech about not leaving the House “in disorder” before he joined his colleagues on the outside.
As the opposition members left the premises, a crowd formed outside on the perimeter of Parliament. Some people cheered in support of the opposition while others expressed their disgust because “we elected y’all to serve for us. Look the prime minister going and borrow how much money and y’all have nothing to say about that. Y’all not feeling it! Is us that feeling it in our pocket!” Someone else shouted, “They right! Too much nonsense going on in parliament!” while another said “Y’all fellas selfish! Who are you saying you represent when you do foolishness like this? It’s not for us. It’s all about the votes.” A woman stood quietly at the corner of Constitution Park and William Peter Boulevard and told this reporter, “It doesn’t matter whether they call elections now. They all say they are for the people but they don’t know we are choosing between the lesser of two evils because the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
The preceding first appeared in this newspaper on Saturday, 14 September 2011.