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COP battle lines drawn
The battle for leadership of the Congress of the People (COP) took on the tone of a general election campaign at the party’s Charlieville Operations Centre yesterday, as four candidates filed their nomination papers. Shouting bands of placard-bearing supporters followed two candidates, party chair Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and deputy leader Dr Lincoln Douglas, upstairs into the office.
Incumbent leader Prakash Ramadhar had perhaps the quietest entry. Rufus Adolphus Foster, talking tough, went with only two people, who said not a word. The three challengers expressed dissatisfaction with the present leadership. The COP is one of five parties in the People’s Partnership coalition Government. Its June 29 leadership elections come in the midst of complaints about Ramadhar’s leadership style and speculation over whether the COP will remain with the partnership government or pull out.
Ramadhar won the 2011 internal elections against candidates Vernon de Lima, Nalini Dial and Anil Roberts. The party shot into the limelight recently when the national executive decided to suspend executive member and Sport Minister Anil Roberts, over the controversial “ganja video” which shows a man resembling a government minister rolling a substance believed to be marijuana in a cigarette with two women in a hotel room.
Dr Lincoln Douglas
Big support for Douglas
Shouting, “The man to take us to victory!” a band of about 20 placard-bearing supporters of COP deputy leader Douglas, from his constituency of Lopinot/Bon Air West, went up the stairs of the COP’s office around 11.30 am. “The man to take the COP, who they saying is dead, to take us to victory,” bellowed Carmalitta McGuirk, the chief shouter. They all wore jerseys with Douglas’s face printed on them with the words, “We party, We MP, We leader.”
Two women opened a banner that stretched over a good part of the width of the office. “If we had a bigger area we would have brought about 200 or 300 people,” one said. McGuirk, a COP field officer, said, “People on the ground saying the COP dead. We need someone with a strong voice that will be heard in the Partnership. “Carolyn is a good woman but I don’t think she has the voice to take us to victory. “Prakash is also a good man but people are saying the COP is dead because we have a weak leader.”
Douglas said the COP was looking for a good leader and if he won he would show what that was all about. “The kind of leader that is required is someone with the ability to bring disparate groups together and negotiate,” he said on the role of a party in a coalition structure. “That’s what I think is a priority right now.”
Prakash leaves it to voters
Incumbent leader Prakash Ramadhar said it was the electorate that had to decide whether it wanted a leader who was diplomatic, wise, cool-headed and restrained, or acrimonious and quarrelsome. The temperament of a leader was critically important, said Ramadhar, who was accompanied by his wife to file his nomination papers. A good leader must be able to play on any field, rise to any occasion and give the right dose of medicine at the right time.
Ramadhar said he had been enduring short-term pain for long-term gain. Dismissing criticism of his leadership style, he said it was a very loud but small group which felt the COP should break free from the Partnership and go into pristine glory. He said he was not disappointed that three candidates were running against him, but looked forward to a healthy debate, and expected and intended to win the election.
Carolyn wants party strong again
A small group of Seepersad-Bachan supporters assembled at the front of Central Bar and Roti Shop around 12.40 pm, opposite the COP office, and handed out jerseys with her face printed on them from a pile on a table. A flurry of excitement filled the office which was not evident at the arrival of the other candidates. A man waltzed in singing, “We going and elect the Carolyn.” A voice shouted from downstairs, “She reach!” followed by a burst of chanting.
“Who endorse Carolyn? Dookeran!” A flash of shocking pink then appeared at the top of the stairs and a smiling Seepersad-Bachan emerged, holding her husband Sureash’s hand. After she filed her nomination papers, with senior party members Wendell Eversley and attorney Kevin Rattiram hovering nearby, she told the media she was humbled by the enthusiasm shown for her. She said her campaign for leadership begins today. Seepersad-Bachan said she intended to restore the COP’s identity.
“Sometimes people feel we are too idealistic, but I beg to differ. I am going to stand firmly by principle.” She said this was not about “Carolyn,” but about team leadership, adding, “I am not a maximum leader.” Echoing Ramadhar’s earlier statement, she said strong partners will make a strong government. “Coalition governance is here to stay and I intend to make the COP strong again.” Supporter Azim Gulab then gave the media copies of her six-page plan for the devolution of governance.
Rufus unhappy with leadership
Rufus Foster, a member since 2006 and chairman of the Arouca/Maloney constituency, said the leadership was in a deplorable state and members were bewildered and stressed out. A retired Defence Force staff sergeant, he said that’s why he threw his hat into the ring, and if he were leader he would want all options on the table, including that of joining the PNM.
Foster handed out copies of his biographical data, which said one of the ways he sought to improve the lives of people in the constituency was through the Draughts & Checkers Association, of which he is president and CEO. He is also vice-president of the Pan American Draughts and Checkers Federation. Foster said he speaks Spanish fluently, had just returned from vacation in Spain, and found himself unable to bear the thought of Ramadhar leading the COP for another term.