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Leadership challenges

Published: 
Sunday, November 5, 2017

On September 12, 1973, Karl Hudson-Phillips resigned as attorney general in the Cabinet of prime minister Eric Williams. The two had not been on good terms for months before this. On September 28, 1973, Williams told a packed Convention Centre in Chaguaramas that he had made no arrangements to seek a further extension of his tenure as political leader of the PNM.

The PNM Annual Convention was adjourned and Williams became a recluse. The General Council of the PNM met on October 7, 1973, to put the process in place to elect a new political leader. It came down to two nominees, Karl Hudson-Phillips and Kamaluddin Mohammed, with Mohammed saying that he would withdraw if Williams were to reconsider his decision.

On December 2, 1973, when the PNM Convention resumed a motion from the floor was approved that a delegation should be formed to visit Williams to determine whether he would reconsider and return. He did.

Many who were known Karl loyalists deserted him that day and only a councillor from Couva, Desmond Baxter, stood up in the convention to argue that there should be no delegation and that the convention should proceed to elect a political leader. He was overruled and Karl was virtually left at the altar.

It would appear that in recent times within the Opposition UNC that a similar cold-feet condition has afflicted those UNC MPs whom Vasant Bharath has openly claimed are working with him and whose names he is not prepared to call publicly.

The issue of public declarations of support for those who seek to support challengers and then withdraw their support when the virtual political heat is turned on is an old phenomenon in our politics.

The difference today is that the major political parties now have direct elections for their executives on a one-person-one-vote basis. Kamla Persad-Bissessar has decided to offer herself for re-election, as political leader of the UNC, before the end of the minimum date on which her term would have ended.

That opened a firestorm of controversy inside the UNC with arguments about whether or not the party could regulate its business by fixing a date for an internal election—on time for the national executive and one year early for the political leader.

Last Tuesday, the Congress of the UNC approved the recommendation of the National Executive (Natex) to hold those elections on November 26 instant. Section 18 of the UNC party constitution says:

“The Political Leader shall hold office for THREE (3) years. All other elected National Executive officers shall hold office for TWO (2) years. They shall hold office until successors to their offices have been elected unless they resign or are removed from office prior to the expiry of their tenure or their offices otherwise become vacant for any cause.”

The implication of the language is that all office holders hold office until their successors are elected. That explains why political leaders and Natex members have been able to hold office way beyond the time for the holding of elections for their positions because they hold office “until successors to their offices have been elected”.

If the election is being held before the term of office expires and a successor is elected, then there will be a changing of the guard. The language is quite simple and the intention of the framers is quite clear.

In 2006, when Winston Dookeran resigned as political leader of the UNC in order to form the Congress of the People on September 10, it was easy for other UNC MPs to join Dookeran as COP MPs because there was no political leader of the UNC to write to the Speaker to seek to have the seats of those MPs declared vacant under the crossing-the-floor provisions of section 49A of the Constitution.

Is early resignation a Trojan horse?

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