Trinidad and Tobago - Leadership



Patrick Manning is of African descent, as are most of the members of the PNM. President Arthur Robinson is also Afro-Trinidadian, and when he named Manning prime minister following the election tie, he stated that his decision was not influenced by ethnicity, national origin, or politics. He maintained that he was following the constitutional guidelines that specified, in the event of an election tie, the candidate most able to control the government in the president's judgment should be named prime minister. But tensions between Indo-Trinidadians and Afro-Trinidadians were increasing following the election, since most Indo-Trinidadians supported Panday's United National Congress party.

Despite being sworn in as prime minister, without a sitting Parliament, the government was in turmoil. The Constitution requires that Parliament must have a Speaker of the House, elected by the House of Representatives; if this is not accomplished within four months of the voting, new elections must be called. Panday, as leader of the UNC, refused to rally his party to vote for a speaker, so no legislative majority could be reached, and Parliament could not be convened. Manning tried to make light of this problem at first, but as weeks and months went by without any success in bringing the Parliament together, it became clear that politics in Trinidad and Tobago had brought the Parliament to a standstill. This left Manning, as prime minister, in sole control of government; he could exercise executive powers even to the point of declaring a national emergency. The opposition party classified the government as an "executive dictatorship" and pressed for new elections. But Manning contended that the last two elections were plagued with voting irregularities, and wanted to postpone setting a date for elections until the list of registered voters could be verified. An inquiry was conducted, but as of April 2002, none of the allegations of irregularities had been substantiated. During the months immediately following the election, President Robinson encouraged Panday and Manning to meet, and they complied—meeting on several occasions—without success. On 7 April 2002, Manning dissolved Parliament and called for new elections within six months (as dictated by the Constitution).

As of May 2002, the country's journalists were calling on Manning to accept the standoff and to set a date for elections; it appeared likely that the PNM leadership would reluctantly accept a plan to hold elections in September 2002, although his inability to lead following the December 2001 elections had weakened his prospects considerably for the next election.

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