Page 2 Us Elections Kidnapping
Quick Political Recap
By RICHARD LORD (Express)
GENERAL ELECTIONS will be held in Trinidad and Tobago on October 7, 2002. This will be the third such elections in less than three years for the people of this country. General Elections are normally held once every five years. But because the former UNC Government of Basdeo Panday had effectively collapsed in October 2001 because three of its ministers, including the Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, had publicly expressed a lack of support for the then Prime Minister, Panday called the polls for December 10, exactly one year into his five-year term. When the results were declared on the night of December 10, it was revealed that both the UNC and the PNM had won 18 seats each of the 36-seat Parliament.
This unprecedented development forced President Arthur NR Robinson to call the two political leaders of the respective parties, Panday and Patrick Manning, to initiate discussions on a process for a Prime Minister to be appointed.
At the end of the deliberations, the two leaders agreed on a course of action which accepted that the President as provided for in the Constitution should appoint a Prime Minister. Panday, it was later learned, was expecting the President to appoint him because of his incumbency. But President Robinson instead appointed Manning. When the Parliament was convened almost exactly six months after the last sitting, Manning was unable to show that he held the support of the majority of MPs in the House of Representatives as the Government failed to elect a Speaker which was the first order of business. Manning made a second attempt to elect a Speaker in August but failed again.
This was the first reason he had to advise the President to dissolve the Parliament and call elections for next month.
The other main reason for this action is that the national budget which was approved in Parliament under the UNC Government in September 2001 would have expired at the end of September 2002. The law provides for one-twelfth of that figure to be used without Parliamentary approval for one month following, that is the month of October. In order to bring a new Budget, Manning had to first seek the fresh mandate of the population, so he set October 7 as the election date.
The two major parties are expected to launch their campaigns and present their candidates in stronghold constituencies on Sunday afternoon (September 15). The PNM will be Port of Spain South at Woodford Square, the traditional venue, while the UNC will launch in the constituency in which it got the highest number of votes, Chaguanas, at Mid Centre Mall.
The issue of violence during the campaign has surfaced and Panday has called on the Inter-Religious Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago to draft a Code of Conduct for the campaign. The election is expected to be one of the keenest contests as all opinion polls have either predicted another 18/18 deadlock or at best a 19/17 victory for the PNM.
Both the PNM and the UNC have spoken of the need for constitutional reform. In order to do this, the Government must win at least 24 seats. This seems very unlikely for any party. A former PNM minister of finance, Wendell Mottley, has formed a new party, Citizens Alliance. He is expected to contest a PNM-stronghold seat, Port of Spain South, now held by Eric Williams. Mottley had said that he intends to break the deadlock by winning that seat.