Votes from Independent Senators Michael Annisette and Gail Merhair eased Wednesday's passage in the Senate of Government's bill to postpone Local Government elections.
The bill to extend the term of municipal corporations had received a severe lashing from the six UNC Senators and the majority of Independent Senators despite intervention by Prime Minister Patrick Manning in the Senate earlier in the debate. Government had required the support of at least one Independent Senator for the bill to succeed.
Independent Senator Annette Nicholson-Alfred did not contribute to the debate but voted against the bill, as did six other Independent Senators–Dana Seetahal, Ramesh Deosaran, Corinne Baptiste-McKnight, Basharat Ali, Subhas Ramkhelawan and Helen Drayton. In the vote, Government's 15 votes for the bill were supplemented by Merhair's and Annisette's, making for 17 votes in all. Opposition and Independent votes 'against' totalled 13.
Annisette, who spoke ahead of Merhair, signalled from the start of his address that his support might have been forthcoming–contingent on certain situations–since he professed interest more in the reform process. He said democracy meant more than a vote. He said he had no fear of dictatorship in T&T while the Senate has the members that it does. He said he knew of several states where people vote but where there was no democracy. But Annisette said the perception of "dictatorship" worried him. He warned Government about a "disconnect" between Government and what was really taking place on the "ground floor" with the public.
He said there was a crying need for fundamental changes in local government–a view to which Local Government Minister Hazel Manning said, "Yes." However, Annisette expressed concerns which he said came from the "bowels of the trade union movement" about the fate of corporation workers in two municipalities in the reform process. Annisette made it clear that that would influence his vote. "I need answers and I think that will determine what action I'll take," he added.