NO DEAL: From left, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, MSJ leader David Abdulah, OWTU president general Ancel Roget and PNM Labour Relations Officer Jennifer Baptiste-Primus leave the Ambassador Hotel in St James on Wednesday night following their roundtable meeting. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

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NO COALITION

Movement against Section 34 splits on issue of PNM, MSJ, DNA merger

By Renuka Singh

There will be no political coalition between the People's National Movement (PNM) and the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ).

Talk of such a political alliance at Wednesday night's third roundtable session sparked a heated debate and resulted in two groups pulling out of the informal labour, civil and political amalgamation.

The proposal for a political coalition was tabled by Kirk Meighoo of the Domestic National Alliance (DNA) and Phillip Alexander of the Jericho Project at the meeting at the Ambassador Hotel, Long Circular Road, St James, but was quickly refused by both parties.

That immediate refusal of the political proposal however led to a split in the group, as Meighoo and Alexander exited the meeting soon after the idea was rejected.

MSJ leader David Abdulah, who chaired the meeting, said there would be no coalition at this time.

"There was a proposal on the way forward that there should be a political coalition emerging out of the roundtable and after extensive discussions, the overwhelming consensus of the roundtable is that this is a coming together of civil society around the issue of Section 34 and the implications of that and that is the common issue and therefore the issue of political coalition just does not arise," he said.

"That proposal was rejected. We are not about any political coalition, which is what those gentlemen proposed and was what the roundtable said that is not what we are about," Abdulah said.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said on Wednesday night the two were probably looking too far ahead at this time.

"If you recall, we did say that this issue and other issues on a national governance nature would see us co-operating as entities in the quest of good governance. The whole question of 'coalition today or I leave the room' did not find favour this evening," Rowley added.

But Meighoo said he did not think the proposal was premature in any way and instead called on the two political groups to understand the political ramifications of the current undertaking.

"This is a political movement and it should be organised seriously in a political way. If they want to just keep marching and marching that's fine, but we want something serious," he said.

"The population will not be fooled by trying to bring down this Government and then what's left is the PNM. The groups want something more than the PNM next time around," he said.

The usually civil meeting began shortly before 6 p.m. but just about two hours later was interrupted by raised voices and a slammed door as one member of DNA stormed out of the meeting. Soon after, Alexander left the meeting and was quickly followed by Meighoo.

"We had simply put a proposal to the group that we form a political coalition and simply move seriously for the next stage, but not all the parties agreed to work together and we respectfully withdrew from the process, because if you're not serious about the process and why you are doing this or what you want to put in place, we don't believe that that does any service to the people of Trinidad and Tobago," Meighoo said.

"We are out of the roundtable meetings, but we are still open and the invitation is still there for serious political talks," Meighoo said.

Alexander said the two groups decided they did not want to be a part of the continuation of the roundtable's work.

"We no longer can put ourselves in a place where we choosing between two political parties, the UNC (United National Congress) and the PNM," he said.

"We not trying to pick one or the other and that's where we found ourselves tonight. If we continue on, we would be working for the PNM against the UNC and that was not what we signed up for," Alexander said.

At that time on Wednesday night, Alexander did not say he was one of the two people that supported the idea of a formal coalition between the PNM and MSJ but by yesterday had forwarded an e-mail saying he had "supported and underscored" that coalition proposal.

The roundtable was born soon after the PNM called an impromptu march through the streets of Port of Spain at the height of the Section 34 fiasco in September.

Just weeks later, 15 unions, led by Oilfields Workers' Trade Union president general Ancel Roget and several civil groups joined the Opposition and MSJ for a meeting which led to a march on November 2.

Civil society groups such as Country First, National Association for the Empowerment of African People, Citizen Spirit Pride, Enough, DNA, the Jericho Project and Section 34 group were among those who met on Wednesday at the Ambassador Hotel.

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