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MPs query early poll for UNC leadership
Is the political leader of the United National Congress acting ultra vires of the party’s constitution by calling elections for the post of political leader a year earlier than scheduled?
Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the National Executive (NATEX), may not think so, but UNC MP for Chaguanas West Ganga Singh thinks the election for the post of political leader at this time is a breach of section 18 of the party’s constitution.
Singh has penned a letter of complaint to the UNC’s General Secretary Dave Tancoo seeking answers as to why the election for the post of political leader has been brought forward and has indicated to Tancoo that if he does not get a response within four days he will be “forced to consider other options in order to save the party from action that may be contrary to its Constitution and damaging to the party itself and the membership in general.”
Section 18 of the UNC Constitution states: “The political leader shall hold office for three years. All other elected National Executive Officers shall hold office for two years. They shall hold office until successors to their offices have been elected unless they resign or are removed from the office prior to the expiry of their tenure or their offices otherwise become vacant for any cause.”
Singh said from his reading, “the framers of our Constitution stated and intended that officers of the party and in particular the political leader hold or shall hold office for a fixed term,” unless they resign or are removed from office prior to the end of their term.
The UNC last held an election for the post of political leader in December 2015, and Singh is arguing there is no need for an election to that position before the next due date in December 2018.
The UNC release with the notice of the election is posted on the Facebook page of Persad-Bissessar. It said she had taken the decision to seek a fresh mandate from the party members as the party prepares for a general election.
But Singh said Article 18 of the Constitution “does not give the political leader the power to take a decision to seek a fresh mandate from the party members before the end of her three-year term.”
Tancoo told the T&T Guardian, “there is nothing that debars the political leader from seeking re-election at any point.”
He likened it to a Prime Minister seeking a fresh mandate at any point in their five-year term. He said he was yet to receive any letter lodging any concern about the election.
Singh insisted that the fixing of November 26, as the date for the election of the party’s political leader is ultra vires and/or in breach of the constitution and is, therefore, null, void and of no effect.”
Caroni Central MP Dr Bhoe Tewarie told the T&T Guardian: “I always believe that if you have a constitution you must honour the constitution and live by it.”
He said he found the leadership election this year “is a little premature because the political leader has a continuing mandate until next year. I don’t see why she cannot continue to honour her mandate. There is no challenge to the leadership as far as I am aware.”
Tewarie said there is “no demand for an early election and the executive election should be held as it is due and the leadership election should be held when it is due.”
He admitted he was in Parliament when the decision was taken for the November election.
Party chairman: Time right for fresh mandate
UNC Chairman David Lee told the T&T Guardian that Persad-Bissessar wanted to “revalidate her position as political leader. She decided to seek a fresh mandate.”
Asked why she thought she needed to do that a year before the election for the post is due, he said: “Given the state of the nation and lack of governance by the PNM administration, we don’t want to get distracted in the next coming two to three years. We feel that because of the lack of governance general elections could be held very, very soon.”
He said the party did not want to be “consumed with internal elections,” but wanted to be able to “concentrate all our energies on preparing for the general election.”
Lee said the for the past 25 months “the political leader has done tremendous work in rebuilding the party coming out of our defeat in the last general elections. Given the tremendous amount of work she did as the political leader and Opposition Leader she feels that now is a good time to revalidate her position.”
Persad-Bissessar had two challengers—Vasant Bharath and Roodal Moonilal—in the 2015 election.
She captured 17,502 votes, Moonilal 1,821 and Bharath 1,305. Moonilal said he is not contesting the election while Bharath is still considering his position.
The last election was marred by allegations of voter-padding and corruption. Lee said they were exactly that “allegations, they were never factual. I think the political leader and her team won fair and square. The UNC ran a transparent and democratic process,” he said.
The party general secretary Dave Tancoo said UNC elections have always been “free and fair.”