As UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar gets set to assume the Opposition Leader's chair in Parliament tomorrow, outgoing Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday blanked yesterday's Parliament session–leaving the chair vacant.
"I left (the chair) vacant as they want to occupy it," Panday said, during a telephone interview yesterday. The chair in Parliament that Panday occupied since 2002 in his most recent stint as Opposition Leader was noticeably empty yesterday, between Persad-Bissessar and UNC chief whip Jack Warner. After Persad-Bissessar finally secured the necessary majority support from MPs to obtain the post of Opposition Leader, MPs Jack Warner and Roodal Moonilal yesterday left the Parliament at 2.30 pm to take a letter to President George Maxwell Richards on the planned change. Signatures on the letter were from MPs Harry Partap, Nizam Baksh, Winston Peters, Jack Warner, Chandresh Sharma, Roodal Moonilal and Tim Gopeesingh. Panday, who has functioned as Opposition Leader at different periods in political history since 1976, said yesterday that he had not yet packed up and moved out of the Opposition Leader's office. "I have not been informed of any change," he added.
Panday said he did not attend yesterday's Parliament session since, he said, "I'm giving them a chance to sort themselves out." Persad-Bissessar at Tuesday's UNC caucus formalised plans to place Panday to her left when she takes the Opposition Leader's seat tomorrow. The decision on seating was announced at the caucus. Asked yesterday if he would agree to sitting at Persad-Bissessar's left, Panday said: "I don't know where they will put me...on the front bench or the back–or the Red House steps. I don't know. I don't know what is in their mind...I do know that I find it extremely difficult to work under a chief whip who has refused to account for millions of dollars he had received on behalf of the UNC. "But this party has had 20 years of my blood, sweat and tears, and I will not let any international operator take it over, yet I fear the UNC will mash up over the next six months and disintegrate."
Panday said he would not be involved in that and he had no plans to form a new party. He said he was curious about the COP's planned unity meeting on March 7 with party leaders and hoped it would not mean that all the UNC had achieved over the years would be "given away" at that meeting. On his mood as tomorrow's Parliament changes loom, Panday said he was very "relaxed and very relieved." At yesterday's Parliament session, UNC MPs were in brisk mode before the session, watched intently by PNM MPs who gave some of them picong. During debate, Moonilal huddled in conversation with Tim Gopeesingh and Vasant Bharath, while MPs Subhas Panday and Mikela Panday–who did not sign the letter of support– sat isolated.