Saturday, November 23, 2013

Panday looks at return to UNC frontline

Armed with a mission to “restore the UNC to its pristine glory,” ousted leader and former prime minister Basdeo Panday may contest a post on the executive in the party’s internal elections next January. “Yes I will, if I can be assured the voting process will not be rigged and will be free, fair and open. The elections are usually rigged,” Panday told the T&T Guardian yesterday. “If I decide to contest the elections, it will be to return the party to its pristine glory,” he added.

He made the disclosure on the TBC Radio Network’s Aakash Vani morning talk show, Panchayat, this week and later to the T&T Guardian. Panday was responding to questions about rumours he planned to contest the post of UNC chairman with a slate supported by Vasant Bharath, Trade and Industry Minister. He did not give a direct answer but only confirmed he would contest the elections if he was sure the process was fair.

There have also been unconfirmed rumours about a possible alliance between Panday and the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) led by Jack Warner. Asked about that, Panday skirted the issue, saying it was not a question of an alliance, since he was advocating for change in the political system. Referring to a system of proportional representation under a reformed Constitution, he said: “There will be no need for a coalition. The ILP will put up their candidates and get their seats and the other parties will do the same.”

Panday’s revelations come in the wake of losses by the UNC in four elections this year, the pullout from the coalition government of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), rifts in the Congress of the People (COP) and the resignation of former UNC chairman Warner, who formed his own rival party. Asked if he foresaw any further breakaways from the People’s Partnership Government, Panday said no “because those who are there do not want to lose any benefits.”

Bharath could not be reached and the T&T Guardian was informed he was out of the country. UNC deputy leader Dr Roodal Moonilal, who is reportedly contesting the position again in the upcoming elections, was asked how he felt about Panday returning to the UNC and to politics and if the party would accept him. “He has not left the political arena. He never left the UNC. So it is not a question of accepting him or not,” he said.

Panday, told that lately he has been seen in discussions with politicians he once had public disagreements with, and asked if he was rallying the old guard to make a political comeback to the UNC’s frontline, also said: “I have never left the political arena.” He has begun an advocacy campaign for constitutional reform and has already invited ILP leader Warner to talks. 

He said he planned to invite former UNC attorney general Ramesh Maharaj, who broke away from the party and formed Team Unity, and Trevor Sudama, who also resigned. Former UNC minister John Humphrey is also on Panday’s list as well as COP leader Prakash Ramadhar and MSJ leader David Abdulah. “I am interviewing all without favour, malice or ill will. I am really concerned about constitutional reform,” he said.

During their first meeting recently after almost five years, Warner called on Panday to return to active politics. Warner, in 2008, announced he was on a mission to oust Panday as UNC leader and succeeded in 2010 when he was replaced by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Panday said as he never left the political arena, there was no question of coming back. He added: “I had given up on electoral politics but I am still involved in politics, in trying to make a better quality of life for the country.

“I invited Warner (to the constitution reform talks) because he and others are people who are involved in the political system.” Asked his thoughts on the future of the ILP, Panday said a third party could not survive under the two-party political system. He dismissed the Government’s introduction of proportional representation in the local government elections process as just a “device for some other purpose. It was a device to nominate aldermen after the elections.”

ILP interim chairman Robin Montano, asked if the party would accept Panday if he decided to return to active politics, said: “The answer is yes, most certainly. His knowledge and experience as a statesman would be most beneficial to anybody.”

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