While the United National Congress (UNC) seeks to rebuild after successive election failures, the courts may have to determine the legality of its internal elections as two candidates contesting the party’s leadership suspect that the election is already compromised.
Former Trade, Industry, Investment and Communications Minister Vasant Bharath and former Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj are calling for changes to the party’s Internal Management Elections Committee.
Bharath is prepared to take the matter to court, but only if his request, in a letter, to UNC chairman Peter Kanhai fails.
Bharath called for a meeting to discuss having representatives of each leadership candidate sit on the elections committee to ensure transparency and accountability. However, Maharaj, who also wrote to Kanhai, is giving the party seven days to dissolve and replace the elections committee for face legal action.
While Bharath filed his nomination at the UNC’s headquarters in Couva yesterday, Maharaj did not. However, Maharaj said the papers were ready and would make a decision before the 4 pm deadline. He later decided not to contest the election.
“My lawyers advised me that once I send in my nomination, it would be like I am agreeing with the irregularity. I am still going to be agitating from now until for a chance in the election committee.”
Despite some members waiting for her arrival, political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar did not show at the headquarters, opting to send an agent to submit her nomination.
Bharath and Maharaj were sceptical after receiving a voice note on November 10 in which they heard Persad-Bissessar saying that she was awake into the wee hours of the morning with her lawyers, preparing a new manual. The following day, the party issued an Election Manual to guide member’s conduct during the internal elections.
Opposition Senator Jaynati Lutchmedial said Persad-Bissessar sought her input into guidelines meant to explain the Public Health Regulations and the conduct of elections for her own slate and their supporters.
However, Bharath and Maharaj do not accept this.
Bharath said it was strange that Persad-Bissessar would wait nine months after the pandemic began to now work on a COVID-19 protocol document.
“If that is the case, is it that the UNC, a legitimate organisation, does not have a COVID manual for conducting the elections themselves? I would have thought that the party would have put out its own rules and regulation by which all participants should adhere.”
Bharath recalled Persad-Bissessar’s concern about the conduct of the Elections and Boundaries Commission in the lead up to the August 10 general elections. He calls on her and the party to uphold the same standards they requested.
There is also the issue of who holds the post of General Secretary. Oropouche West MP Dave Tancoo held the position but had to resign as the party’s constitution prohibits sitting members of Parliament from holding the General Secretary post. Maharaj and Bharath said when they inquired who held the position, they got no answers.
Maharaj stressed the importance as the General Secretary plays a role in appointing the elections committee. He said the committee is headed by Ramesh Maharaj Persad, who is a member of the UNC’s Standing Membership Committee. He said this should worry all candidates, as the UNC was undertaking a mass recruitment exercise and the general secretary has to approve each application per the constitution.
“The appointment of this internal elections committee is done in secret. We are hearing recordings of the incumbent political leader talking about a manual and the very next day the so-called independent election committee issued their own manual. “It is very suspicious, and the cronyism, nepotism and tradition of losing is something the party membership wants to get away from, and the conduct of this election is obscene and vulgar. “
While I am very much interested in contesting the position, I will not subject myself, at this point, to be part of a fraudulent process, unless of course, guided otherwise by my attorney,” Maharaj said.