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Panday tells London crowd:

Ramesh, Ralph, Sudama crossed the floor to PNM

By Francis Joseph in London, Newsday

Basdeo Panday, Political Leader of the UNC, told a fund-raising crowd in North London on Saturday night that Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Ralph Maraj and Trevor Sudama "crossed" the floor and "joined" the People's National Movement (PNM), making the UNC a minority in Parliament and unable to govern.

Panday was the featured speaker at a UNC fund-raising party at the Black Boy Hotel in North London on Saturday, which was attended by more than 300 persons who paid an entrance fee of six pounds (TT$54).

One of the persons at the party was Vashant Bharat, former CEO of the National Flour Mills (NFM) who lost his job when $30 million worth of rice from India disappeared. He has since migrated to London.

Panday said when he decided to expand the party and bring in non-Indians, some of his own men felt threatened.

"We started to expand the party," he said. "The PNM used to call us an Indian party from Caroni, the cane farmers' party. We began bringing into the party people like Carlos John, Jearlean John, Gerald Yetming, Mervyn Assam, and Lindsay Gillette —Chinese in the party. It was meant to be a kind of unity for our people. It was national unity. We advocated a programme of inclusion where people felt they belong in the society."

Panday said that act created a sense of uncertainty within the people who were there. "People in the party who saw themselves as being the base of the party, began to feel that the more people I brought in, the more they receded into the background."

The UNC Leader said after the three members — Ramesh, Ralph and Sudama — "crossed' the floor and "joined" the PNM, he became a minority leader.

"When that happens, the Prime Minister, as your Prime Minister here, has one of two choices: he may go to the President and he may say that he is not able to run his government, that he has lost the majority; please find somebody else; or he may as the Constitution provides, ask the President to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections, which is exactly what I did."

Panday said the elections were held in December 2001 and it ended in an 18-18 tie.

"All the Constitution says is that the President in such circumstances must appoint a Prime Minister as the person who in his opinion, commands the majority support in the Parliament," he said.

The President, he said, acted totally contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and appointed Patrick Manning as the Prime Minister although Manning did not control the majority in Parliament.

"The President appointed Mr Manning on the ground of moral and spiritual values. That is a lot of hogwash, if I can use that term," the UNC Leader added.

Panday pointed out that Manning cannot convene Parliament, with the last sitting held last October.

"For the last nine months, there has been no Parliament, so parliamentary democracy no longer exists. Mr Manning and his cohorts are just spending money without authority, hoping that he will win the next elections and so rectify all the wrongs that he has done. My job is to ensure that he doesn't," Panday told his audience.

The former Prime Minister said that he was in London to raise funds for the next elections. He did not mention anything to do with his failure to meet the deadline of the Integrity Commission, which is inquiring into an undeclared London back account.

He said he had been to Guyana and Canada on similar exercises, and would be off to Miami and New York shortly.

Panday said that despite the allegations of corruption during the 2000 elections, his party still won 19 seats with 307,000 voters.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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