Express: UNC Crisis has grave implications for T&T

Editorial by Trinidad and Tobago Express Newspaper

Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Apr 26, 2006 – A new and critically more urgent crisis has descended upon the opposition United National Congress, occasioned by yesterday’s declaration by the President that the position of Leader of the Opposition is now vacant. President Richards, acting in accordance with Section 49 (3) of the country’s Constitution, declared yesterday that Basdeo Panday, Member of Parliament for Couva North, shall cease to function in that capacity, consequent upon his conviction on charges of uttering false declarations to the Integrity Commission.

Mr Panday’s lawyers yesterday filed an appeal in this matter, and they are to go again before a judge in chambers tomorrow to argue for bail. He remains behind bars on a sentence of two years in prison, imposed in this matter on Monday.

By virtue of the President’s declaration yesterday, Mr Panday’s position as Leader of the Opposition, the source of severe contention in the party in recent months given the effective split in the UNC leadership, came into sharp focus once more.

The otherwise obvious choice, all things being equal, would have been Winston Dookeran, the already embattled Political Leader, continuing to fight for political survival inside his own party. By an executive fiat purportedly dictated from prison, however, Kamla Persad-Bissessar is set to be anointed in that position.

Before this, Mr Dookeran was ominously prevented from appearing on the speakers’ platform at the UNC meeting in the Rienzi Complex on Monday evening, as the party sought to rally its supporters around the issue of the conviction and sentencing of Mr Panday, its chairman.

He left the meeting again having to show a courageous demeanour, but with the clear signal that once more some of his colleagues in the UNC executive had demonstrated unvarnished disrespect right to his face.

With Mr Panday’s political future apparently non-existent, his effectiveness as a member of the parliamentary opposition nullified as a result of the court judgement, and with these latest indignities against Mr Dookeran, the UNC now seems headed for what is perhaps the ugliest chapter in an already sordid succession affair.

Undoubtedly the loser in all of this will be the people of Trinidad and Tobago, whose democracy will then have been rendered so much the poorer. What is likely to emerge will be a ruling elite that will see itself unbridled by the natural parliamentary checks and balances as its power surges.(Express)