Dr Indira Rampersad –
UWI political scientists Dr Indira Rampersad and Dr Bishnu Ragoonath say time will tell whether or not President-elect Christine Kangaloo will keep her promise to be fair-minded when she assumes office as President on March 21.
Kangaloo, a former Senate president, was elected President by a vote of 48-22 in the Electoral College on January 20.
The Electoral College comprises all members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
After receiving her instruments of appointment at the Red House on Thursday, Kangaloo asked the population to give her a chance when she assumes office in two months’ time.
While Kangaloo’s promise to be fair-minded was “all well and good,” Rampersad said, “The population is going to hold her to that promise. She will be under heavy scrutiny.”
She reiterated that as a former PNM MP, senator and government minister, Kangaloo’s nomination to succeed outgoing President Paula-Mae Weekes was contentious in the eyes of many people.
“There is no two ways about that. She is a PNM politician.”
Rampersad did not understand how Kangaloo could distance herself from this fact by saying she left party politics when she became Senate president in 2015.
She wondered if she made this comment to gain acceptance from the population.
Rampersad reiterated that Kangaloo will be tried and tested many times in the coming months and years after she assumes the presidency in March.
“That is not for her to decide whether she is impartial or not. It is for the population to decide and the facts themselves. The facts will speak for themselves.”
Two possible tests for Kangaloo, Rampersad continued, could lie in the appointment of independent senators or the appointment of a Commissioner of Police (CoP).
Under the Constitution, the President alone selects the nine members of the independent bench in the Senate.
The 48 votes which Kangaloo gained in the Electoral College came from the 39 Government members in Parliament (including the Speaker of the House and the Senate president) and the nine independent senators.
At this stage, Rampersad was uncertain whether Kangaloo would have to address the matter of independent senatorial appointments after she assumes office.
A similar situation exists with the power of the President to approve a merit list from the Police Service Commission (PSC) and then ensure that the relevant notification is sent to the Parliament to approve the best candidate for CoP.
The PSC has said it expected to complete the selection process for a substantive CoP by the end of this month.
Rampersad said it remains to be seen whether it will be Weekes or Kangaloo who will deal with this matter.
Ragoonath acknowledged Kangaloo’s point that some former politicians have been able to successfully transition out of active politics to hold independent high office.
But he said, “There are concerns about her close linkages with the PNM.”
Ragoonath added it may not be simply a matter of Kangaloo’s actions as President determining whether or not she is being impartial.
He said there may be instances where matters discussed between Kangaloo and the Government, will not be public knowledge.
The population also may never know the details of conversations which Kangaloo will have as President directly with the Prime Minister.
Ragoonath said, “That counsel, done in private, we will not know much about it.”
In these scenarios, Ragoonath said one cannot tell whether the President acted in accordance with the wishes of the Prime Minister or Cabinet or if there was any disagreement between them.
“Whether or not she will come to the public and tell us that, we would not know.”
On Thursday, Kangaloo said she wants to be accessible and the times she chooses to speak will be according to her own intuition.