Former Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday yesterday defied the order of UNC chief whip Jack Warner and stuck to his word to occupy a backbench seat in the Parliament yesterday.
The PNM Government benches saluted Panday yesterday with desk-thumping when he entered the Parliament for the first time since being replaced by new Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The UNC MPs present did not join in.
Persad-Bissessar also arrived in Parliament right after Panday, taking up the Opposition Leader's chair while PNMites were saluting with desk-thumping, Panday's debut on the Opposition backbench.
"I'll be looking down at you from here," Panday responded to the PNM MPs with a grin.
Warner had arranged new seating for UNC MPs as Persad-Bissessar took up the position. He had placed Panday to Persad- Bissessar's left.
However, Panday instead took up a seat as the last person on the Opposition backbench, next to UNC MP Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj–and four seats away from PNM backbencher Keith Rowley.
Panday was the only other MP who had not supported Persad-Bissesar for the Opposition Leader's post, who went to the backbench. Maharaj has been there since last year.
Other MPs such as Vasant Bharath and Subhas Panday and Mickela Panday remained on UNC's front bench.
The Opposition's new front bench now stands as–Warner, Persad-Bissessar, UNC MP Dr Roodal Moonilal (who filled the chair Panday refused to accept), Dr Tim Gopeesingh, Chandresh Sharma, Bharath, Kelvin Ramnath (absent), Hamza Rafeeq (absent), Subhas Panday and Mikela Panday.
The Opposition's backbench comprises Harry Partap, Nizam Baksh, Winston Peters, Maharaj and Panday.
House Speaker Barendra Sinanan, during the session, said he had received correspondence from President George Maxwell Richards, indicating that Panday's appointment as Opposition Leader had been revoked. At that point, the PNM benches desk-thumped again.
When Sinanan annnounced that Persad- Bissessar was new Opposition Leader, the UNC MPs thumped their desks in approval, save for Panday and Maharaj.
Sinanan noted Panday's service and also congratulated Persad-Bissessar on her appointment.
Prime Minister Patrick Manning also congratulated Persad-Bissessar, saying: "It's the first time we've had a female Opposition Leader and I think she ought to be roundly congratulated.
"There is a major responsibility on her shoulders as we seek to have a Parliament doing the people's business without fear or favour or malice or ill will," he added.
Manning said a special thanks to Panday, whom he said was now occupying a seat which Manning had occupied in 1990 when Panday became Opposition Leader.
Manning added: "He's had a long and distinguished career, and is just moving on to a new phase. When I sat on those benches, I thought about Government. I don't know what is on his mind, but whatever it is, I wish him well."
Before the session, PNM MPs had exchanged picong with UNC MPs on the developments in the Opposition.
Warner told PNM MPs present that he was putting Panday on the front bench though Panday wanted to sit behind.
"Put him in Fyzabad," PNM's Mustapha Abdul-Hamid told Warner.
"What goes around comes around," Warner added.
"Your days are numbered," UNC's Moonilal said to the PNM MPs.
Persad-Bissessar's first act in the House was to raise Penal residents' calls for water as a matter for urgent public debate. (See Page A14)