The trinidad Guardian / The latest controversy to hit the local political scene has been the issue about whether or not the UNC ought to hold its internal elections for the post of political Leader earlier than scheduled.

Ever since the UNC started the process of having internal elections on a one-person-one-vote basis, the party has always (except for one instance in 2012) held its elections on a past-due basis after the term of office of the National Executive (Natex) and the political leader had expired.

Last Wednesday’s Guardian had an interesting report on page A7 about UNC MPs meeting to discuss the election date debate. Inside of that story there were varying comments about the history of the party and the intention of the framers of the UNC party constitution to separate the terms of office of political leader (three years) from the Natex (two years) and to hold those elections separately.

However, right next to that story was a box titled “History of UNC elections”. The story told in that box clearly contradicted all of the comments made in the report just next to it.

In fact, what emerged there was the fact that after the first one-person-one-vote election in 2001, there ought to have been a Natex election in 2003 and a political leader election in 2004.

Instead, both elections were bundled in 2005.

The highlight of the 2005 election was the fact that Basdeo Panday stepped aside as political leader and endorsed Winston Dookeran as political leader. However, Panday did not step aside as Leader of the Opposition and that was the source of all the difficulties that Dookeran faced during his short tenure as political leader. He eventually resigned the post in September 2006 when he formed the Congress of the People.

By giving up the post of political leader, there was no UNC political leader who could have sought to have those UNC MPs who joined Dookeran as COP MPs removed from their seats under section 49A of the Constitution.

The next UNC internal elections for the Natex were due in 2007 and the political leader election was due in 2008. Neither election was held on time and it was only after Jack Warner and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj fought Basdeo Panday on this issue in 2008-2009 were both elections bundled again and held in 2010.

The only time that the UNC ever held any of its internal elections on time was in 2012. The political leader election of 2013 and the Natex election of 2014 were both bundled and held jointly in 2015. In many respects, the UNC has not held its elections in accordance with the timelines envisaged in its constitution.

The argument now is that the political leader election should not be held one year before it is due, while the Natex election is being held when it is due. The matter is to be decided by a congress meeting of the UNC that is to be held next Tuesday to discuss the Natex recommendation for it.

The most striking aspect of this controversy is the fact that a call for elections would normally be welcomed by potential challengers and they would be ready to respond. Instead, there are arguments about technicalities pertaining to who could and could not do whatever in relation to the holding of an early election for political leader.

If there are challengers they should have decided, by now, on who will be on their Natex slate(s) and they could step forward one year earlier than planned (if they had planned at all). Maybe those who are arguing about technicalities were not planning to challenge.

For those who may have been planning to challenge, Basdeo Panday had an old saying that he used to use on his political platforms to describe impending attacks from those opposed to him which was “Do them before they do you.” Did that happen here?


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