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President holds highest office in the land
As Head of State, the President of the Republic is the holder of the highest office in the country and superior to that of the Chief Justice, Speaker of the House of Representatives and even the Prime Minister. A president is elected for a term of five years, which can only be extended for a period of four months in special circumstances. Provisions concerning the manner and procedure of his/her election to and removal from office and special immunities from prosecution and civil suit are found in the T&T Constitution.
To be eligible for office, the candidate for president must be a citizen of this country, at least 35 years old, and must have been “ordinarily resident” in Trinidad and Tobago for at least ten years immediately before the date of his nomination. The office is open to any person satisfying these criteria, including any serving Member of Parliament or senator.
However, a candidate will be disqualified where he or she is disqualified from being nominated as a Member of Parliament. According to the Constitution, these disqualifications include citizenship or declaration of allegiance to a foreign country, being declared bankrupt, being sentenced to death or serving a sentence of imprisonment of at least 12 months, being convicted of an offence relating to elections, becoming mentally ill, and being disqualified to vote in any parliamentary election.
The Constitution gives the Speaker of the House of Representatives control over the election of a president. All Members of Parliament and senators may vote at the election, which must take place not more than two months and at least one month before the expiry of the term of the sitting president.
Where the office is declared vacant during a five-year term, elections must be held within 90 days of the occurrence of the vacancy. When members vote for a president, the Speaker convenes an electoral college. Where there is more than one candidate, voting is conducted by secret ballot. In the event of a tie the Speaker will have the casting vote.
The Speaker is also entitled to hold the office of president temporarily, in the absence of the President of the Senate, who is first entitled to act as president in the standing president’s temporary absence. Where the Speaker cannot act, the duties fall to the vice-president of the Senate, and where that person cannot act, the electoral college must be convened by the deputy speaker to elect an acting president.
The Office of President may only be declared vacant in the event of death or resignation of the incumbent, or if the holder is removed by a two-thirds resolution of the House of Representatives and Senate combined, following an investigation by a tribunal of judges of the Supreme Court.
While in office, the president cannot be arrested or prosecuted except by consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. He may not face a civil suit for any act performed in his official capacity, but may be sued for acts performed in his personal capacity.
• This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult a legal adviser.