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EDITORIAL - 'Ole Mas' Panday style

Published:Tuesday | February 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM

THE FORMAL festival concluded a week ago, but another aspect of carnival in Trinidad and Tobago may only now be coming to an end: the 'Ole Mas' that has become the politics of the United National Congress (UNC), the party that was founded by the country's colourful Opposition Leader, Basdeo Panday.

Ole Mas, by the way, is a feature of carnival characterised not by spectacular costumes, but by a sense of whimsy, a sort of caricature of the issues of the day.

Since the formation of the UNC two decades ago, after his split of the National Alliance of Reconstruction, Mr Panday has, for the most part, maintained a manipulative dominance of the party, which he operated like his private property.

He would seemingly extend the authority to surbordinates, but cut them off if they appeared to be accumulating real independence and threatened the position of the UNC as a subsidiary of Panday Inc. Reformers and challengers would be sidelined or sent packing. Indeed, Trinidadian politics is littered with the skeletons of those who questioned Basdeo's authority to do as he wished with the UNC.

Mr Panday could operate with impunity because he combined real charisma and sharp wit with genuine achievements as a labour leader in the country's agricultural belt. His support among the mostly Indo-Trinidadian who form the bulk of the membership of the UNC was solid. That is, until recently.

In December, Mr Panday, who is now 77, was challenged for the leadership of a now fractious and limping UNC by one of his former acolytes, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Earlier, this month, in a vote by party members, Mr Panday was defeated at rate of more than 12 to 1.

In retrospect, the result is hardly surprising. For Mr Panday should have retired at least a decade ago. Trinidadians, even among his core supporters, have grown fed up of his antics and see him as the governing People's National Movement's (PNM) best political asset.

Mr Panday does not agree and, in the process, has contributed to another bit of political 'ole mas'.

Despite his defeat and Mrs Persad-Bissessar's leadership of the UNC, Mr Panday declined to step down as leader of the opposition, drawing the distinction between that post, to which he was appointed by the country's president, and the leadership of the party.

He could take that position because he could count on the parliamentary support of the majority - eight - of the 15 UNC parliamentarians, including himself, his daughter and his brother. The balance, however, shifted on the weekend when one of Mr Panday's former supporters, Dr Tim Goopeesingh, decided to end the charade and cast his lot with Mrs Persad-Bissessar.

Not uncharacteristically, Mr Panday says he feels betrayed. But barring a new act of what is now becoming a boring UNC comedy, the majority of the UNC parliamentarians will indicate their support for Mrs Persad-Bissessar, who will be appointed leader of the opposition.

As we have said before, Mrs Persad-Bissessar will have a major job of healing the UNC and turning the party into a credible alternative to the PNM, knowing all the time that there are plotters at her back.

But, hopefully, Mr Panday will now go quietly rather than turning his whole legacy into ole mas.

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