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Ganja video draws anger at COP debate: Prakash feels opponents’ heat
The first of three Congress of the People (COP) election debates kicked off on Wednesday with the controversial “ganja video” dominating the conversation. The debate among four contenders for the June 29 election of a COP leader—Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, Rufus Foster, Lincoln Douglas and incumbent Prakash Ramadhar—was held at CNMG, Port-of-Spain.
Moderator Josanne Lennard’s first question to the candidates was whether they felt Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had disrespected the COP by not firing Roberts from her Cabinet.
The COP’s national executive suspended Roberts for refusing to talk to them about the video, which shows a man resembling a Government minister rolling a marijuana cigarette in a hotel room with two women, and said he should not hold a ministerial portfolio either. The PM, to date, has taken no step to fire Roberts, saying she was satisfied with his report on the matter.
Douglas, COP’s deputy chairman, said he PM’s action “shows the decision of the political leader and the party was not respected. It represents disrespect and he (Ramadhar) should have done something about it. “I would have spoken clearly about it and would not have allowed myself to be disrespected.” Seepersad-Bachan said when the Fyzabad Accord was signed by members of the coalition it was meant to be fleshed out. She threw blame on Ramadhar and other party leaders in the coalition for this.
She said the Roberts issue was not a legal but a moral one, and Ramadhar should have taken it up with the PM and other coalition leaders to have Roberts removed from the Cabinet. Foster said he would have got a consensus from the COP membership and would not have left the decision about Roberts to the political leader. Ramadhar, however, said he did not think his rivals had read the Fyzabad Accord and what it stood for.
He said Roberts was suspended on the basis of the principles of law, while the PM is acting on her principles. He said the national executive made a decision only to suspend Roberts. It was Seepersad-Bachan, as party chairman, he said, who was given the responsibility to flesh out the coalition arrangement and he did not know why it had not happened.
Seepersad-Bachan rebutted that the matter was discussed at a monthly meeting of chairmen of the coalition parties and they were supposed to take back reports to their party leaders. But Ramadhar said he had got no such report. Seepersad-Bachan said the matter was discussed in Cabinet but the party leaders never took it forward.
Coalition best for party
Ramadhar also criticised those calling the COP weak and saying it lost its glory when it joined the People’s Partnership coalition Government. He said the party lost its glory when it was defeated in the 2007 general election, but regained strength when it joined the PP.
Legislation on procurement, campaign financing and the removal of property tax—party goals—were on the table in Parliament, he said, and these could not have been achieved if the party were not in government. He said if the COP had pulled out of the PP, the coalition would have “mashed up.”
“There is no alternative. We can’t go to the PNM. They promised to return all the things we fought against,” he said. Ramadhar said enemies of the people and the People’s Partnership were behind the propaganda that the COP has been weakened under his leadership. Asked whether if they were party leader they would leave the PP, all, except Seepersad-Bachan, said they would be willing to talk things out before such a move.
Seepersad-Bachan said the COP had to regain the trust of its members, even if that meant breaking up with the partners. Douglas said he would try to fix the car before jumping out of it. Foster said he would like to examine all the pros and cons of staying with the PP first before he thought of a COP/PNM alliance.