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Move to oust Panday *LINK*

NEWSDAY REPORTERS

An unusually subdued Wade Mark, chairman of UNC, yesterday dismissed claims that recent moves among its MPs and executive had anything to do with replacing its political leader Basdeo Panday. But sources told Newsday that there was growing turmoil in the party, based on fears that if Prime Minister Patrick Manning calls a snap election, the UNC under Pandayís leadership would lose. The UNCís fears are said to be also based on recent polls by pollsters like NACTA which have said the UNC cannot win under Panday. Calls have been made for Panday to be replaced with Winston Dookeran.

At a media conference yesterday after a meeting of MPs and party officials at Rienzi Complex, Mark, who was accompanied by UNC CEO Dr Tim Gopeesingh, was asked if the party had decided to replace Panday. Mark said every position in the party including that of political leader would be up for election, and that no decision had been made with respect to who would be the candidate for political leader. The issue had first come into sharp focus on Wednesday at the regular UNC parliamentary caucus when a letter was received by Mark signed by eight MPs calling for the partyís executive elections to be postponed from the scheduled date of September 18 by one month.

It was unclear why some MPs wanted it postponed, but it is understood that the MPs who are calling for the postponement do not want Panday replaced. Mark refused to say who had signed the letter, but Newsday understands the request for postponement came from Chandresh Sharma, Kelvin Ramnath, Adesh Nanan, Kamla Persad-Bissesar, Subhas Panday, Hamza Rafeeq, Nizam Baksh and Harry Partap. Noticeably absent among the signatories were St Augustine MP Winston Dookeran and St Joseph MP Gerard Yetming, both of whom have recently been highly critical of the partyís leadership. Yetming has gone so far as to publicly call for Panday to step down. He also called for the party to hold its executive elections which had been postponed on several occasions.

Mark said the executive would decide on the requested postponement within the next five to seven days but, meanwhile, the September 18 date still stands. Gopeesingh explained yesterday that a delay in the elections was being sought because a "transformation process" in the UNC has not been completed. "We are continuing the transformation process that will provide this country with a viable alternative to that of Manning and his PNM." This view was echoed by Kamla Persad-Bissessar who said the transformation exercise was required before the executive election is held. Panday is due to leave next week for vacation in England.

Panday yesterday said his fate is entirely in the hands of the party who will decide if he is to stay as leader or leave. The last executive elections of the UNC in 2001 led to its downfall. In a three-way contest for deputy leader, Ramesh Maharaj beat Pandayís choice of Carlos John, and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, but the new executive never functioned. This signalled the beginning of the break between Panday and Maharaj, leading to the exit of Maharaj, Trevor Sudama and Ralph Maraj from the UNC, and forced Panday to call general elections in December 2001.

The UNC tied 18/18 with the PNM, and the latter was appointed to government by President Arthur NR Robinson. The PNM won a clear victory in the 2002 general elections winning 20 seats to the UNCís 16 seats. The UNC has since lost the support of two of its MPs ó Gillian Lucky and Fuad Khan ó who have declared themselves "Independent UNC" MPs. What has emerged in the last few days is that there is a clear division among UNC members over the leadership of Panday who is facing several corruption charges.

http://www.newsday.co.tt/stories.php?article_id=27959

Trinidad and Tobago News

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