Monday 31st October 2005
In asserting that it is the President who has to appoint the Leader of the Opposition, Basdeo Panday is being both accurate and disingenuous - which, perhaps, is a feat only the inimitable Mr Panday could pull off. Section 83 (2) of the Constitution does indeed say that the President shall appoint as Opposition Leader "the member of the House of Representatives who, in his judgement, is best able to command the support of the greatest number of the House of Representatives who do not support the Government." But Mr Panday, in making his argument, does not remark on sub-section 3(a) which states one condition in which the office can become vacant - when the holder resigns. So, if Mr Panday really wanted UNC Political Leader Winston Dookeran to be Opposition Leader, he would have only to step down. Instead, it seems that Mr Panday has been angling for a showdown - or, if not, has left Mr Dookeran with no choice but to challenge Mr Panday head-on.
Since the internal elections of the United National Congress were completed at the beginning of this month, there has been consternation and controversy over Mr Panday's decision to remain as Opposition Leader. Elected unopposed as UNC chairman, Mr Panday has continued to function as the party's effective leader in and out of Parliament even as Mr Dookeran, the UNC's official political leader, has seen the "lame duck" label wrap itself ever more securely around him.
The tension within the UNC has split its supporters into two camps. One camp argues that Mr Panday should step aside and let Mr Dookeran perform the role he was elected into. The other camp asserts that Mr Panday must remain and that the Dookeran faction is displaying gross ingratitude to him. The problem with the first position is that Mr Dookeran was not elected, but selected, while the second argument ignores the fact that it was Basdeo Panday who decided that he should step down as UNC political leader and that he did so because his political stocks had sunk to an all-time low.
Meanwhile, amongst the UNC MPs, there seems to have been considerable behind-the-scenes jockeying over the past few weeks, and now Jack Warner, who is one of the party's three deputy political leaders, has announced that eight MPs support Mr Dookeran for the post of Opposition Leader - which, if true, means that the Opposition is evenly split on who should lead it in Parliament.
Mr Dookeran has taken the line that his main objective is to keep the UNC together - a spin which was, in fact, forced upon him by Mr Panday during the election campaign, when the latter accused persons on the Dookeran slate of wanting to hijack and thereafter mash up the UNC. But the time frame within which Mr Dookeran can continue to tout this line is limited. Although his main political asset is his clean image, voters will surely be underwhelmed by a political leader who appears to have neither guts nor savvy. So Mr Dookeran really has only two options - he must either issue an ultimatum to Mr Panday about the party's political leadership, or petition the President to appoint him as the new Opposition Leader.
The first option would require Mr Dookeran to resign as UNC political leader if Mr Panday does not cease making unilateral decisions and/or resign as Opposition Leader. If Mr Panday refuses, then the UNC will return to the former situation which caused Mr Panday to step aside as political leader in the first place. The second option would require Mr Dookeran to get at least nine signatures to present to President Max Richards, with the sure consequence of causing a schism in the party.
What is certain, though, is that the UNC cannot continue in this mode for too long. Win or lose, Mr Dookeran must take the bull by the horns - or perhaps it would be more apt to say take the lion by the mane.
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