With a mere five days before the February 5 deadline, the Government is yet to name its candidate for the post of president of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, according to Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
Rowley was speaking in an interview with the Express hours before Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday the government's nominee would be named on Monday.
Rowley said the Opposition has already put the Government on notice that it will not support any Member of Parliament or any member of the Cabinet for the position of President.
This effectively means that the PNM will not support any possible nomination of House Speaker Wade Mark, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith, Planning and Development Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie and former chairman of the Public Service Commission and Police Service Commission Kenneth Lalla—the people whose names have surfaced in the race for the presidency.
Rowley is also adamant that the election of the president must have the "consensus" of both sides of House, which he feels will result in a higher quality of candidate who will hold the highest office in the country.
This consensus approach, which means agreement of a candidate from both the Government and the Opposition, has also been suggested as the way to go by former head of the public service, Reginald Dumas, and Senior Counsel Martin Daly.
Rowley said the Leader of Government Business, Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, informed Opposition Chief Whip, Marlene McDonald, at a meeting at her office on Piccadilly Street, Port of Spain, on Wednesday afternoon that the government had no candidate at this time.
The Parliament has meanwhile indicated it will convene the Electoral College, consisting of all members of the Senate and all members of the House of Representatives, pursuant to Section 28 (1) and 28(2) of the Constitution, on Friday, February 15, to elect the fifth president of the country.
Rowley has described as "quite curious" the fact that with the deadline date less than a week away the government had not yet named its candidate.
He said the Opposition had earlier approached the government to have a "consensus candidate because we realised the need to have agreement on the candidate for the highest position in the country".
According to Rowley, "We waited for the government to come up with a nomination, and when that did not happen, we approached the government on the issue."
Rowley said he instructed McDonald to communicate with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and to seek a meeting to discuss a consensus position with respect to the appointment
He contends that nobody of any high quality will put themselves up as a minority candidate, knowing that the government can push them aside.
McDonald, meanwhile, told the Express yesterday she did in fact speak with the Prime Minister last week Thursday on the matter, and "she indicated to me that we would speak the following Monday. But she said, the PM was ill and did not attend last Monday's session in the Parliament.
"We, however, spoke during the tea break by phone and she told me that they did not have a nominee. She asked if we had a candidate, and I told her no, we did not. I also told her about our consensus position, and I indicated that the PNM was not going to support any sitting parliamentarian for the post."
The PM instructed Moonilal to discuss the issue with McDonald, resulting in a meeting two days ago, where both sides said they had no nominees. McDonald said she reminded Moonilal about the February 5 deadline and he promised to get back to her.
Rowley, meanwhile, told the Express, "I refuse to believe that the Government has no candidate. We believe it is a ruse because it (government) does not want to subject its nominee for proper scrutiny, either by the opposition in consensus talks, or by the public, in sufficient time to determine the nominee's suitability.
"We believe that the government is waiting for last minute in the height of Carnival to name its candidate, and we strongly believe that they are poised to make a wrong and unacceptable position once again," he said.