Opinion: Right is mightPOSTED: 02/27/14 12:20 AM
Benjamin Franklin knew it already in the second half of the eighteenth century: right is might. These days, politicians like to turn that notion around and throw their might-is-right remarks at a majority that is taking decisions they do not like or that they oppose.
In a democracy like ours, the rule is simple. Decisions are taken by a majority vote. There is therefore a lot to say for the school of thought that the majority of the parliament has the right to decide that it wants to diverge from the Rules of Order for its own meetings. In the old setup, this was only possible if none of the MPs opposed such an initiative.
The opposition does not want to change this rule, because it rightly fears that the majority will steamroll parliamentarians who would have a problem with such a decision. The majority is always the government coalition and applying the majority rule to this topic would mean that, indeed, might is right.
The other option –diverging from the rules only if no one opposes this – shifts the power from the majority to the minority. Even when there is a very good reason to diverge from the rules, one Member of Parliament would be able to hold the whole parliament hostage with a dissenting vote. Which one of these two situations is better?
The feeling we got yesterday during the central committee meeting where Dr. Lloyd Richardson presented the fruits of 3.5 years of labor on the revised Rules of Order is that parliament will in the end go for the majority rule. Time will tell.
It seems like a choice between two evils. What is actually missing from the current proposal is a set of conditions under which a majority has the power to diverge from the rules.
I could not play the game so I had to change the rules, is an expression that comes to mind. MP Louie Laveist made a reference to sports, saying, “The moment you change the rules, the game becomes flawed.”
Maybe that is exactly what we are looking at. If an ad hoc committee spends 3.5 years – for whatever reasons – on revising the rules of order, could it not come up with a version for the ages? Why would the rules include an article that gives parliament the right to diverge from them?
That remains unclear. The explanatory notes only state that diverging from the rules may not be at odds with the Kingdom charter, the state regulation (aka constitution) or any other legal regulation.
Furthermore, the explanation is that by introducing the majority rule, the parliament strengthens the principle that it regulates its own functioning without being dependent on other bodies or functionaries.
Still, it would be comforting to add the conditions that are required before the parliament is allowed to diverge from its own rules. Otherwise, the majority will indeed get an instrument at its disposal to change the rules at its convenience.
Even though the majority decided in a democratic system, allowing this kind of freedom feels a lot like a slippery slope. Sometimes, democracy sucks.