No one in the Opposition UNC has owned up as any of the three members who did not vote along with their 22 parliamentary colleagues on Friday in support of the party’s presidential nominee, attorney Israel Khan, SC.
This has evoked a barrage of political claims from the PNM that a coup is taking place within the ranks of the UNC.
The UNC was scheduled to hold its national congress on Sunday at the Couva South Multi-Purpose Hall, Couva, from 3 pm, but rescheduled it at the last minute. The congress brings together all arms of the UNC and the party’s membership to discuss matters of critical importance to the UNC and national issues as well.
This meeting has now been rescheduled for January 29 at the same venue. No specific reason was given for the rescheduling of the congress.
The Electoral College on Friday voted 48-22 in favour of former Senate president Christine Kangaloo to serve as TT’s seventh president.
The college comprises all members of the House of Representatives and Senate, including the Speaker of the House and the Senate President.
The vote for Kanglaoo comprised 39 government members (including Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George and Senate President Nigel De Freitas) and nine independent senators.
The vote from the Opposition in support of Khan was 22, three short of the UNC’s full parliamentary membership in the House and Senate.
The PNM was swift to pounce on this on Saturday.
In a statement, PNM public relations officer Faris Al-Rawi reminded Opposition Leader and UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar of her comment during the Electoral College meeting about history not absolving college members who did not vote for Khan.
“One’s own words are often the most bitter to chew. But slow mastication with reflective pause often leads to better positions whilst gifting cherished silence. Bon appetit, Madame Persad-Bissessar.”
Al-Rawi advised Persad-Bissessar to have the support of her own team before requesting the support of the nation, as “history will not absolve (her) if (she does) otherwise.”
He reminded Persad-Bissessar that “22 does not equal to 25 (the total number of UNC MPs (19) and senators (six) in the Parliament).”
In a Facebook post, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said, “What transpired was nothing short of a bloody coup (in the UNC).
“It, therefore, appears that three UNC members, found her (Persad-Bissessar’s) nominee (Khan) so unpalatable, so abhorrent, so unacceptable, and so crude, that they deliberately wasted the ballots, making them ‘spoilt.’”
Hinds agreed with Al-Rawi that Khan would have expected all 25 UNC parliamentarians to vote for him. After Friday’s vote, Khan said he would now drink water and mind his business, as he is in pre-retirement mode.
Hinds wondered whether UNC MPs Dr Roodal Moonilal, David Lee, Rudranath Indarsingh and Dinesh Rambally knew anything about the spoilt ballots.
Hinds opined, “The UNC is in a dangerous, deceitful and politically bloody place.”
Recalling that Persad-Bissessar agreed with his own suggestion to have UNC members undertake polygraph tests and fingerprinting to determine how they voted in the college meeting, Hinds claimed, “She was put to political death. For the world to see.”
In a tweet, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said, “Three UNC MPs broke ranks in the electoral college yesterday (Friday), either voting for a different presidential candidate or spoiling their ballots.”
He added, “Neither media nor their usual ‘unbiased’ go-to ‘expert’ commentators can yet come to terms with that reality.”
While not addressing how the UNC voted in the Electoral College, Progressive Empowerment Party (PEP) leader Philip Edward Alexander slammed the UNC for choosing the “low road of hypocrisy” by encouraging its supporters to gather outside of the Red House and “attack the Kangaloo family name.”
He said, “I am aghast that the Opposition believes their only choices are press releases and gutter behaviour to make a point.”
Reiterating the PEP’s condemnation of the PNM and its various policies, Alexander said, “This UNC appears lost and is dividing the nation further and turning civil society away from it in droves.”
After saying the issue of the presidency demanded astute leadership and sober analysis, Alexander said it was time for the population to ignore the “weak and embarrassing UNC opposition” in its quest to find a viable political alternative to the PNM.
At a news conference after the vote on Friday in Parliament, Persad-Bissessar said she was unfazed by the fact that three UNC members did not support Khan.
“This party (UNC) we operate as a democracy and in the interest of democracy, we don’t whip the whip when people exercise their democratic right, and I see it as an exercise in democracy.”
The identities of these members were not disclosed by Persad-Bissessar or any other UNC parliamentarians present at the briefing.
But Persad-Bissessar said those UNC members “will have their own consciousness (sic) to take care of and make peace with God.”
On Saturday, UNC chairman Davendranath Tancoo said, “I have no idea who the persons are whose votes were declared spoilt ballots, or which party they belonged to. The ballots have no names.”
Tancoo scrutinised the votes of Kangaloo and Khan on behalf of the Opposition during the Electoral College meeting on Friday
He asked Newsday, “If you find out (who the three spoilt ballots belong to), please let me know.”
Tancoo recalled that only recently people learned the Prime Minister voted against the PNM’s presidential nominee Justice Anthony Lucky in 1997 in favour of then Tobago East MP Arthur NR Robinson, after Rowley made it public.
“Until the persons stand up and admit, we would only be guessing, and I don’t like guessing,” Tancoo said.
Asked whether the congress would discuss the events in the Electoral College and the identities of the people who spoiled their ballots, Tancoo said, “The Congress is on 29th January and will discuss party matters.”
He confirmed that official notice of the congress being rescheduled from January 22 to 29 had been sent out. Tancoo did not give reasons for the rescheduling.
But one party source said the rescheduling had nothing to do with the House sitting on Monday.
“This was done before any House sitting was announced.”
The House of Representatives sits on Monday to debate a motion to adopt a report of its Standing Finance Committee to approve increases to the budgetary allocations to the Energy Ministry and Foreign and Caricom Affairs Ministry.
The committee approved these increases when it met on January 18, two days before the Electoral College meeting.
Mayaro MP Rushton Paray said none of the spoilt ballots was his and he did not know which parliamentarians they belonged to.
“Nope...I voted too many times to spoil a vote. I am committed to the UNC and to its success."
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial did not know who were the owners of the three spoilt ballots
She said, “I don’t know. I can only say I was not one, as I did my duty on behalf of the people of TT and voted for the candidate I felt people could feel more confident in as an independent check and balance on executive power.”
Chaguanas East MP Vandana Mohit declined to comment when contacted on Saturday.
Several other Opposition MPs and senators were unavailable for comment on Saturday.