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UNC on rocky ground

Newsday Editorial

The United National Congress found itself between a rock and a hard place last week, but this was nobody’s fault but its own. However, the Opposition displayed good sense by ordering MP Chandresh Sharma not to go to Parliament on Friday in defiance of his suspension. Had they proceeded as planned, the UNC would have been seen as adding unnecessary tension to an already tense society. That was the rock. In reversing its strategy, however, the UNC looked like a lame duck. That was the hard place. Clearly, though, the party had decided that this was the lesser political price to pay.

After spending months making the tearoom "brawl" into a cause célèbre, the party was highly embarrassed when the Privileges Committee decided that no brawl had, in fact, occurred. The UNC attempted desperately to spin this judgement, accusing the Committee of being biased, but these attempts were undermined by one of its own members signing the report, and by the contradictory testimony given by two other UNC MPs. The slippery character of Mr Sharma also did not aid the UNC’s efforts. Having been told by the PNM majority in the Lower House that he must either apologise or be suspended for one month, Sharma agreed to apologise. However, he then came to the House and attempted to make a political speech. Speaker Barry Sinanan probably erred in not requesting a copy of Mr Sharma’s address beforehand.

But, having been suspended, Mr Sharma tried to force a confrontation between himself and the police officers, no doubt with the intention of winning public sympathy. Whether this strategy would have worked or not remains a moot point, since the Government outfoxed the Opposition by simply suspending Mr Sharma indefinitely and adjourning the House. But, even at the press conference held after the suspension fiasco in the House on May 20, Sharma played fast and loose with the truth. He gave a version of the events of the afternoon of the tearoom incident which made it seem as though he went to the police and hospital immediately after being allegedly attacked by Dr Keith Rowley, although the records show that he sat on a committee meeting and most of the Parliamentary session that afternoon.

He also promised reporters a copy of his statement, later reneging with the absurd excuse that his lawyers had advised him not to release it. Sharma then spent the next week promising he would defy the Speaker’s suspension. Indeed, up to an hour before the sitting, he was declaring how brave he was to confront the police who would be awaiting him. But then the party ordered him not to. Sharma also claimed one of the reasons for the about-face was a conspiracy between PNM and elements in the Police Service to make him "a guest of the State" - as though this was not exactly what he had been angling for.

So why did the UNC leadership change its strategy? We can only hazard a guess. This newspaper had already warned the party that its continued focus on this trivial incident made the UNC look petty and out of touch. We doubt, however, that our opinion would have convinced the UNC’s leadership of anything, but it is quite possible that the party received the same feedback from its rank and file. Indeed, chairman Wade Mark did say that the party would not allow this matter to serve as a distraction from the more important issues confronting the country. This is wise politics, and we hope the Opposition can now concentrate on its main task of pointing out everything that the Government is doing wrong.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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