The drama was played out “live” on national television and before hundreds of boisterous supporters who had flocked to the Centre Pointe Mall auditorium, Ramsaran Street, Chaguanas on Thursday night, to witness the final leadership debate between the candidates vying for the post of political leader in Sunday’s internal election.
Participating in the debate was incumbent political leader, Prakash Ramadhar, who was supported by scores of supporters. They proudly wore white COP t-shirts which read “re-elect Prakash,” while supporters of incumbent chairman, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, were similarly garbed in white COP t-shirts with her name emblazoned on the front.
Not to be left out was incumbent deputy political leader, Dr Lincoln Douglas, whose supporters sought to distinguish themselves from the other two factions by wearing orange coloured t-shirts, with his name on the front.
The other candidate, Rufus Foster, was supported by a handful of supporters who did not wear customised t-shirts.
Approaching the debate starting at 8 pm, to facilitate the television broadcast, Foster, who was himself clad in a white COP t-shirt, was soon the centre of attention, when, in delivering his opening remarks, began by congratulating Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for withdrawing the contentious pensions bills pending further consultation. Foster said it was “never too late to listen to the voice of reason.”
He then plunged the entire auditorium into an uproar when he announced his withdrawal from the leadership contest, and threw his support behind Seepersad-Bachan.
He then shook her hand, left the stage and took a seat among her supporters as the other two candidates’ supporters erupted in screams of amazement, with one obviously irate Ramadhar supporter immediately shouting claims of “set-up.”
Meanwhile, both Ramadhar and Douglas did not appear surprised with Ramadhar smiling and shaking his head, while Douglas offered a wry smile.
Ramadhar, iinterviewed afterwards was asked to comment on Foster’s withdrawal, said party members had to be mindful of “underground campaign” in the run up to the election.
And while he did not specifically identify Foster’s endorsement, Ramadhar said: “Members of the party need to be mindful of underground campaigns, and they have to pay close attention to events as they have unfolded,” Ramadhar said. He declined further comment.
“On the June 18th in an email to Carolyn’s Campaign Team it is acknowledged “Carolyn led the way last night. Strategically she took the high road while Foster kept Prakash distracted and angry in his arguments. Is this new Politics?’ Ramadhar’s campaign team asked.
Meanwhile Ramadhar, when asked by the evening’s moderator, Josie Ann Lenard to comment about the direction of the party under his leadership and Seepersad-Bachan’s endorsement by a number of party stalwarts, he replied that a lot of stalwarts had been very unhappy that the COP had entered into a partnership with the other political parties prior to the 2010 General Election. “But I will ask them to come back to the party,” he said.
He then took a swipe at Foster’s defection saying “we have to get rid of the underground campaign,” while, in the same breath, congratulated Seepersad-Bachan for being able to get Foster’s support.
Meanwhile, Douglas, in his opening remarks noted that the purpose of leadership was to “change ideas into reality” and expressed his astonishment that the party was financially “broke” saying people had left the party even though it was now part of a governmental alliance.
“We broke, the party is broke. How does a party get broke and the truth is people have lost interest in the party,” Douglas said, adding, “we have to find all of the people who are disenchanted, and as a leader you must be able to go out into the highways and byways and find the people.’
In their closing remarks, Seepersad- Bachan reminded supporters of her track record saying she was a foundation member, and was committed to the party saying a stronger COP will result in a stronger coalition. Ramadhar then warned the supporters against placing an ‘OJT’ at the helm of the COP saying the next year would be ‘dangerous’ for the ruling coalition and needed a proven leader.