The swearing-in was confirmed by United National Congress (UNC) chairman Jack Warner yesterday, one month after Persad-Bissessar scored a landslide victory in the party’s internal elections, to replace Basdeo Panday as the party’s political leader.
Warner and UNC deputy leader Dr Roodal Moonilal, the Oropouche East MP, delivered two letters to the President at 2.45 pm yesterday. Newsday was able to view both letters before they were dispatched to the President.
The first letter, written and signed by Persad-Bissessar indicated her willingness to serve as Opposition Leader. The second letter bore the signatures of seven UNC Mps who have indicated their support for her to replace Panday as Opposition Leader.
The Mps who signed this letter are Warner, Moonilal, Dr Tim Gopeesingh (Caroni East MP), Winston “Gypsy” Peters (Mayaro MP), Chandresh Sharma (Fyzabad MP), Harry Partap (Cumuto/ Manzanilla MP) and Nizam Baksh, the Naparima MP.
Tabaquite MP Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, St Augustine MP Vasant Bharath, Couva South MP Kelvin Ramnath, Princes Town North MP Subhas Panday and Oropouche West MP Mickela Panday, did not sign.
Section 83 (2) of the Constitution states that the President shall, if the person concerned is willing to be appointed, appoint as Opposition Leader, the member of the House of Representatives who commands the support of the majority of members opposed to the Government.
Speaking with reporters outside President’s House, Warner and Moonilal said changes would be made in the seating arrangements of UNC MPs in the House of Representatives and in the Senate to reflect the change that has taken place, in the aftermath of the January 24 internal elections.
“So I have been advised. Whatever the party decides, I have no problem. We can’t pre-empt the political leader,” Warner said.
“There will be some adjustments in the Lower House to reflect the support provided for the new Opposition Leader. The extent of that shift? I’m not sure at this time,” Moonilal said. Asked whether the MPs who did not sign the letter to back Persad-Bissessar would be an obstacle to change in the UNC, Moonilal replied, “We count on the support of those persons who have signed the letter clearly. There are others who are also in support but for one reason or another, chose not to sign the letter to his Excellency.
“We are 24 months away from a general election and there is a limit to how much the party can slow down to accommodate persons who have not recovered somewhat from the internal party election,” Moonilal added.
Asked whether Panday would be an asset or liability to the UNC, Moonilal replied, “Mr Panday has his own peculiar brand of politics and I am sure that he will continue how he has.” Asked where Panday would be sitting when the House next meets, Moonilal said, “It is not my decision and it is not in my knowledge.”
Panday did not attend yesterday’s sitting of the House of Representatives which was supposed to be his last as Opposition Leader. Contacted yesterday, Panday appeared calm about Persad- Bissessar succeeding him as Opposition Leader. “I expected it. Every good thing has to come to an end,” Panday said.
Panday said he would continue to serve his Couva North constituents but refused to say whether he would support Persad-Bissessar as party leader and Opposition Leader. “I will have to think about that,” Panday said. He added that he would issue a full statement to the media today.
On UNC senatorial changes, Moonilal disclosed: “The calibre of persons we will place in the Senate in the next couple days, I think will take the country by storm.” He hinted that the new Opposition senators will show the country that the UNC is not just an alternative government but “a stronger government in waiting.”
Warner said President Richards was advised that any changes to the Opposition’s senatorial line will be conveyed to him by Friday, so that the relevant instruments of appointment will be made in time for the next Senate sitting on Tuesday.