Political action was at fever pitch last night after Prime Minister Patrick Manning turned grand charge into election action. The ruling People's National Movement (PNM) continued screening apace of general election candidates at Balisier House amid speculation that the party would field several new faces at the polls. The United National Congress (UNC) top brass huddled at Rienzi Complex, Couva, and held intense discussions on opposition unity, election strategy and possible candidates. Congress of the People (COP) leader Winston Dookeran was winging back to T&T, via New York, after a two-week lecturing stint in India, as his colleagues met under acting leader Wendy Lee Yuen.
Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), which is likely to form an alliance with UNC and COP for the two seats in the sister isle, began cranking up its election machinery. The excited political activities were mounted as Manning, in a dramatic move, set the stage for a general election midway into his five-year electoral term. Manning, who recently trumpeted a snap election before a party convention, made good his promise in asking President George Maxwell Richards to dissolve Parliament at midnight last night. Under the country's constitution, the Prime Minister must ensure a general election is held in no fewer than 35 days and no more than 90 days.
Manning's abrupt action yesterday prompted speculation about whether he moved to pre-empt an Opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion that had been scheduled for debate today in the House of Representatives. Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said last night that she had planned to bring fresh evidence of wrongdoing involving certain operatives of Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott). Persad-Bissessar said she would now make the declarations on the hustings. The election could well see the end of the parliamentary career of former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, who has been MP for Couva North since 1976.
Panday, the second longest-serving MP–Manning was first elected to Parliament in 1971–has been at odds with Persad-Bissessar since her election as UNC boss on January 24. There is also uncertainty about Panday loyalists–Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Kelvin Ramnath and Mikela Panday. Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley, who was sacked as a minister in 2008 after being accused of "wajang behaviour," last night announced he would face the PNM Screening Committee tomorrow. There is keen jockeying for PNM candidacies, as several incumbents are facing challenges before the party's screening committee. Manning, who is in his mid-60s, is expected to face off with Persad-Bissessar, 58, who is the first female prime ministerial candidate in T&T's history. The last general election was held on November 7, 2007
What the Constitution says
(1) The President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may at any time prorogue or dissolve Parliament.
(2) Subject to sub-section (3), Parliament, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date of its first sitting after any dissolution, and shall then stand dissolved.
(3) At any time when Trinidad and Tobago is at war, Parliament may extend the period of five years specified in sub-section (2) for not more than 12 months at a time; so however that the life of Parliament shall not be extended under this sub-section for more than five years.
(4) Where, between a dissolution of Parliament and the next ensuing general election of members to the House of Representatives, an emergency arises of such a nature that in the opinion of the Prime Minister it is necessary for the two Houses to be summoned before that general election can be held, the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may summon the two Houses of the preceding Parliament, but the election of members of the House of Representatives shall proceed and the Parliament that has been summoned shall, if not sooner dissolved, again stand dissolved on the day on which the general election is held.
(1) A general election of members of the House of Representatives shall be held at such time within three months after every dissolution of Parliament as the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, shall appoint.
(2) As soon as practicable after every general election, the President shall proceed under section 40 to the appointment of Senators.
(3) Where a vacancy occurs in the House of Representatives within the first four years of the life of the Parliament a by-election shall be held to fill such vacancy not later than 90 days from the date of the announcement by the Speaker of the vacancy.