TAKING OVER: Congress of the People (COP) leader Prakash Ramadhar speaks during a press conference at
Flagship House, Tragarete Road, Port of Spain, yesterday. At right is party chairman Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan.
See Page 16 —Photo: ANISTO ALVES
KAMLA PULLS OUT
Prakash picked to replace Partnership leader in tomorrow’s elections debate
Joel Julien firstname.lastname@example.org
PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has bowed out of tomorrow’s live debate organised by the Trinidad and Tobago Debates Commission (TTDC), opting instead to have political leader of the Congress of the People (COP) Prakash Ramadhar represent the People’s Partnership coalition.
This, however, is a breach of the “criteria for participation” established by the TTDC for the Leaders’ Debate.
The decision to have Ramadhar replace Persad-Bissessar at the debate has however evoked varied responses from the key players linked to the tomorrow’s debate.
Ramadhar and the COP are understandably ecstatic.
The TTDC yesterday “strongly urged” Persad-Bissessar to reconsider her decision.
Dr Keith Rowley, the political leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM), has said he was invited to a debate with his fellow leaders and not with any “messengers”.
David Abdulah, the political leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), has promised to participate no matter who else is there.
And calls to Jack Warner, the interim political leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), for a response proved unsuccessful up to press-time.
One of the highlights in the build-up to next Monday’s local government elections was the live debate among the leaders of the country’s main political parties contesting the election.
It would have been a first for Trinidad.
In January during the build-up to Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election the leaders of the three political parties going to the polls participated in a live debate.
There were two live debates carded for this local government election.
The first took place last Thursday at the studio of State television station, Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) located along Maraval Road in Port of Spain.
That debate, entitled the Senior Representatives’ Debate, included Dr Surujrattan Rambachan, the deputy political leader of the United National Congress (UNC) representing the People’s Partnership coalition, Colm Imbert for the People’s National Movement (PNM), Akins Vidale for the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) and Kenneth Roach for the Independent Liberal Party (ILP).
The leaders of the People’s Partnership, PNM, MSJ and ILP were carded to debate tomorrow at the same venue.
The line-up was to be Persad-Bissessar for the People’s Partnership, Rowley for the PNM, Abdulah for the MSJ and Warner for the ILP.
A spoke was put in the TTDC’s wheel yesterday however.
Speaking at a press conference called by the COP yesterday to unveil its local government manifesto “Total Local; The COP Approach”, Ramadhar announced he had been given the mantle of representing the People’s Partnership at the debate.
Ramadhar was at the time responding to a question on the concerns by some COP members who felt slighted that the party was not going to be represented in the two debates.
“Let me just say this, the prime minister and I have just spoken and she has asked me to represent the People’s Partnership at the debate,” Ramadhar said.
This evoked applause from the COP members present.
A release from the Ministry of Communications yesterday confirmed Persad-Bissessar’s withdrawal in favour of Ramadhar.
“The Partnership took this decision in order to give a voice to the COP and its leader since the Trinidad and Tobago Debates Commission, which has organised the debate, refused to allow COP to participate in the debates while allowing the Movement for Social Justice to be a participant,” the release stated.
“The Partnership felt that this is unfair to the electorate, especially since COP is a legitimate political party with six representatives in Parliament and its members are a part of the governing People’s Partnership coalition,” it stated.
The release stated that the People’s Partnership “is a democratic institution in which each member is equal” and therefore Ramadhar’s inclusion was the “proper thing to do” since Rambachan, from the UNC, represented the coalition last week.
“We are confident that Mr Ramadhar, as a senior member of Cabinet and a leader of one of the parties in our coalition, would professionally present the Partnership’s position during the debate,” the release said.
This, however, is a breach of the “criteria for participation” established by the TTDC.
The TTDC criteria state:
“For inclusion in the debate, each party must have nominated candidates to contest the elections in at least 75 per cent of the municipalities (more than 10 municipalities). However, if the circumstance warrants, that in the public interest, the Commission may exercise its discretion”.
“In the case where two or more parties have agreed to form a new political party or alliance of parties to contest the election, the parties in aggregate must fulfil the criteria above. Further, the alliance must be represented by a single leader (the “Leader”) and for the purposes of organising debates all communications with the alliance will be the Leader or his/her designate. Only the Leader is eligible for participation in a leadership debate”.
The news of Persad-Bissessar’s decision caused the TTDC to convene an emergency meeting to address the issue.
The TTDC addressed the issue in a release yesterday.
“As stated in the Fyzabad Declaration dated April 21, 2010, ‘The Partners agree that the leader of the Partnership and the Prime Ministerial Candidate is and shall be Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar’,” the release stated.
It said the inclusion of the leaders was a “natural progression” from last week’s debate.
“Based on the feedback from the people of Trinidad and Tobago via the wider media it is clear that the public expects Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar top be the one to debate. The TTDC strongly urges the leader of the People’s Partnership to reconsider her decision not to participate,” the release stated.
Contacted for Comment, Rowley said:
“We (PNM) were invited to a debate of the leaders. Not debates by messengers so we are prepared to debate the leaders. I will wait for the commission (TTDC) to tell me what they have in place”.
“We stand ready and are prepared to debate in a leaders’ debate. Leader of the People’s Partnership and leaders of the other political organisations that is what we were invited to and I expect that is what we are going to be participating in and we remain ready to debate in a leaders space,” Rowley said.
“We expect debate of the leaders so any development like this (Persad-Bissessar being replaced) we await the commission’s (TTDC) confirmation that they have the leaders for the debate,” he said.
Abdulah however said he is raring to go especially in light of the momentum gained by the MSJ’s strong showing in last week’s debate.
“We (MSJ) intend to participate. I intend to participate,” Abdulah said.
Numerous calls to Warner proved unsuccessful yesterday.
—See Editorial on Page 12