FORMER government minister Vasant Bharath is advocating for a separation of the roles of Opposition Leader in Parliament and political leader in the party, saying there is nothing stopping the UNC from having two people hold these posts.
He said having two leaders in the UNC to manage those roles might be the best solution as having Kamla Persad-Bissessar as Opposition and UNC political leader is not working out given recent national elections which the party fought and lost.
Bharath is contesting the post of political leader in the UNC's internal elections on December 6 against the incumbent Persad-Bissessar.
Bharath also described as "irrelevant," Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal's view that the party's political leader should be a sitting MP so as to be opposition leader as well. This was the reasoning Moonilal gave on Tuesday, following a meeting at his constituency, for deciding to back Persad-Bissessar to remain as the party's political leader.
Bharath told Newsday on Wednesday that the reality is neither the national Constitution nor the UNC's constitution required that the two positions (opposition leader and political leader) be held by the same person.
“They can be separate positions and they could be separate people holding these positions,” he submitted.
A statement from the executive committee of the Oropouche East constituency on Tuesday, outlined its support for Persad-Bissessar to remain as political leader. This statement came after the "special meeting" at the constituency office attended by Moonilal to discuss the internal election.
While acknowledging Bharath’s “sound contribution” to the People’s Partnership government, the Oropuche East constituency executive noted that not being a MP would exclude him from holding the position of opposition leader if is successful in the internal elections.
“This model of dividing the roles of the leader of the opposition and party leader is largely unknown in the Commonwealth Caribbean. While not intractable, it fuels division and a dysfunctional party structure that is inimical to party unity and cohesion in small-island states,” the executive said.
It argued, “The executive felt that this was not in the best interest of the UNC. Alternatively and conceivably this can lead to a situation where a Prime Minister is not the leader of the majority party in the House. Such politics is unknown to the Westminster model in the main, except for a few exceptions.”
Bharath responded, “This is really a red-herring being put forward by Moonilal to protect the position of the current political leader.” He said the issue they need to determine as a party is whether the fact that one person holding it is working for the party. “And clearly it isn’t.”
At the party level, Bharath said, “If that were the case the party’s organs would be functioning effectively. The reality is none of them are. There are no party groups, no constituency executive, no regular meetings of the parliamentary arm or the national congress or the national assembly as required by the constitution.”
“So, clearly the party has fallen down completely.” At the parliamentary level, Bharath continued, “no one can suggest that the parliamentary aspect is working well because they seem to be taking a lot of licks from the government.
“So neither arm is working well, so clearly the role of having one person handling both at this point in time is not working in favour of the UNC.”
Bharath has said that his role and responsibility is not to interfere with the Parliament.
“I have said from day one, my role is to rebuild the party and its institutions from ground up – to make it a strong organisation that could then confront the People’s National Movement (PNM) as a party and then get into Government.”