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COP election campaign turns ugly
The campaign for internal elections in the Congress of the People (COP) heated up on Tuesday night in San Fernando, when incumbent chairman Joseph Toney accused members of his party of engaging in “political nastiness.” Barbs flew left, right and centre in the auditorium of Palms Club, San Fernando, as the 19 candidates vying for eight positions on the national executive engaged in the second of three public debates, which sounded more like a public spat.
This was in spite of a personal appeal from one of the candidates, Nicole Dyer-Griffith, who is contesting the post of vice-chairman, to refrain from disparaging comments, in an effort not to waste time after the October 28 elections to heal fractures and soothe wounds.
Toney diverted from his presentation as a candidate to deal with the now-infamous legal brief he returned to the Ministry of Finance as junior counsel in the Clico/Hindu Credit Union Commission of Enquiry, which he said had caused some discomfort on a personal, as well as party level.
He told the audience that in spite of his magnanimity in returning the brief, on the basis of his integrity, nameless, faceless people from the party had been using the Internet to scandalise his character. “So when that person, nameless and faceless, goes behind a computer, in some little room, and spreads this vicious rumour on the Internet, then I say, my friends, this is not the politics I have come to expect in the COP,” he said.
“I could have kept the brief and got a nice pocketful of money. But because of my love and loyalty to this party, because of my care for the name of this party, I gave it all up. This is not the new politics our founding father spoke about, this is political nastiness.”
The fracture and dissension in the party were evident, as one of Toney’s challengers, Rekha Ramjit, chastised him and the executive for being disconnected from the grassroot support of the party. She questioned the disparity in the number of polling stations for the internal elections in the South which has five and had the largest COP support base, as compared to the East-West Corridor, which has ten.
Ramjit accused Toney and the executive of failing to instill enthusiasm and excitement in the membership, pointing out that at national council meetings, motions had to be aborted because, out of the 35,000 registered members, they could not form a quorum. “There was no quorum because you can’t even excite your delegates to come back to you,” she charged.
Satu-Ann Ramcharan, who is vying for the position of secretary for elections and voter registration, also raised the question on the drain of membership. “Many members left us for greener pastures...It is clear the politics of patronage and the politics of race is not dead,” Ramcharan said.
Hugh Nurse, another contender for the post of vice-chairman, declared that the COP was in need of healing. A religious minister, Nurse said, “You can’t pretend there aren’t people who have suffered wounds, that there aren’t people who are hurting, who see themselves rejected and despised.
“I am not condemning anybody, but I believe the leadership transition which took place in 2011 was not seamless and people have been left in the wilderness...This simply cannot continue,” he said. Sharon Ramnarine, one of the candidates for finance officer, raised questions about the submission of financial statements for constituency fund-raisers.
One of Ramnarine’s opponents, Kerry-Ann Sudama, called for greater transparency on party financiers. “If we are to receive contributions from financiers, we must know our donors, do background checks on sources of funding, set limits, enquire on motives for contribution, and consult with the leadership to determine if we should accept without compromising our party,” she said.
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