National Assembly - LDS approves motion to amend section of Constitution related to presidential resignation
Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) majority members in the National Assembly yesterday approved a motion tabled by the leader of the opposition Wavel Ramkalawan calling on the House to amend all sections of the Constitution relating to the resignation of a president and to organise fresh presidential election in the shortest possible delay.
Mr Ramkalawan’s motion read as follows: “In view of the political situation in the country following the resignation of President James Michel after only nine months after being elected for a new mandate, the Assembly is calling for a revision of all sections of the Constitution relating to the resignation of a president … and that new presidential election is organised with the shortest possible delay”.
In his presentation Mr Ramkalawan said the motion calls for a great reflection on the part of the Assembly and the country following the sudden resignation of President James Michel under Article 55 of the Constitution and that a new President is expected to be sworn in on October 16.
Today in 2016, 20 years after the Constitution was amended to include new sections namely Article 55 (1) and the introduction of a vice-president, Mr Ramkalawan said it is therefore clear that when the amendment was made in July 1996 it was only three years after the country through a referendum approved the Constitution for the 3rd Republic by 66% of votes.
Mr Ramkalawan noted that in many of the amendments approved there were various points on which the people had agreed on in 1993 when they approved the Constitution that the then SPPF (Seychelles People’s Progressive Front) party decided to amend. This even though many of the provisions which they decided to amend, in 1993 while the Constitutional Commission was conducting its work, the same political party decided to go against these provisions. One of these was the introduction of the post of vice-president.
“But interestingly in 1996, three years later, the same SPPF had already proposed four Constitutional amendments and had already amended 24 articles in the 1st three amendments and they went on to amend 24 other sections in the 4th amendment,” Mr Ramkalawan noted.
He went on to stress that altogether over three years the SPPF had amended a total of 48 sections of the Constitution.
“It is important therefore 20 years later, with the new change in political power, the Assembly in a spirit of calm and serious reflection start to review if these amendments, more specifically Article 55, are still relevant and applicable today,” Mr Ramkalawan pointed out.
Mr Ramkalawan noted that when the amendments were presented in 1996 they were made by a party seeking to consolidate its position with a 2/3 majority in the Assembly. This followed resolutions from the party’s congress.
In order to consolidate its position the ruling party also went as far as to reduce the number of proportionally elected members in the National Assembly by fixing the percentage bar required to obtain a seat to 10%.
“Today, 20 years later, things have changed and it is for this reason that we need to relook at and weigh these provisions,” Mr Ramkalawan said.
At this point he went on to read Article 55 (1) of the Constitution which the people of Seychelles approved in 1993 and he stated that all along the spirit with which the people voted then had been betrayed in 1996.
Mr Ramkalawan argued that the time is right for the Assembly to reflect on Article 55 as well as other Articles relating to the position of the vice-president, the powers he has so as to adopt a new way of doing things.
Mr Ramkalawan proposed that the Constitution is amended to allow, in a situation where the president dies or resigns, the vice-president takes over as a caretaker president during which time an election is organised in the shortest delay, which in most similar cases is 90 days.
“I could have chosen to bring a private member’s bill but I did not choose this option because I wanted the Assembly to debate on the motion to help the people understand the different arguments so that if a private member’s bill is tabled they would have been educated on the different requirements and points they need to consider and reflect on,” Mr Ramkalawan stressed.
He added that the 1996 amendments clearly show that the SPPF’s intention was to always be able to hand over power so that the party always has an advantage over the other potential candidates when a presidential election is held. At this point he highlighted the fact that Seychelles has since independence in 1976 never had a president who has been directly elected by the people when first sworn into office.
“We are moving towards the same situation again unless a constitutional amendment being proposed in the motion is considered. This will allow for Vice- President Danny Faure to serve as a transitional president following which there will be fresh election where he could possibly become the first elected president,” Mr Ramkalawan said.
He went on to stress that the debate on the matter is not intended to disrespect the Office of the President.
Following the long presentation on the motion, the Assembly members from both sides of the house presented arguments for and against the motion.
Eight LDS members and nine Parti Lepep members presented arguments on the motion.
Sebastien Pillay from the Parti Lepep cited different countries which have the same provision in their Constitution namely, the United States, one of the largest democracies, which introduced the provision in 1967 and it has been applied on three occasions, Seychelles (which introduced the amendment in 1996), Argentina, Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines and more recently Zambia (in 2016 after the Constitution was amended as the deaths of two sitting presidents – Levy Mwanawasa in 2008 and Michael Sata in 2014 – forced the country into expensive and disruptive unplanned electoral periods).
He said these countries follow the same principle as we do in relation to a “vacancy in the Office of the President”.
Bernard Georges, elected LDS member for Les Mamelles, argued that even though these provisions are legal as they are stated in the Constitution it is not normal and reasonable in the present context.
“They can be legal but if they are not reasonable the people will not accept it,” Mr Georges stressed.
He pointed out that for these provisions to be acceptable they have to be in an exceptional circumstance.
He stressed that by resigning Mr Michel has not honoured his promise and contract made to the people in December and he has not given plausible and acceptable reasons for his resignation.
However, the Leader of Government Business Charles De Commarmond said that even passed the motion is not binding and that the executive is not forced to oblige.
In his right of reply Mr Ramkalawan expressed disappointment at the interventions of Parti Lepep representatives saying they say one thing inside the House and completely different things outside.
Source: NATION 10-5-16