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Choosing a president

Sunday, January 6 2013

There will be much speculation until next month as to the identity of the government’s nominee for the next president of Trinidad and Tobago. With a nomination deadline of February 5, a new president will be elected on February 15 ahead of the March 17 end of the five-year term of President George Maxwell Richards.

The February 15 election date certainly comes at a busy time, following the January 21 THA election, the Parliamentary debate on the THA bill that is likely to be heated and lengthy in late January/early February, and the carnival which climaxes on February 11 and 12. Whether or not the matter has already been decided by Cabinet is not known. However, the names of a number of people are appearing in the media, among them House Speaker Wade Mark, Karl Hudson Phillips, QC, and Kenneth Lalla SC. It has also been reported that the Congress of the People faction in the Partnership would like to see Winston Dookeran elected President. Sources say it is unlikely that Dookeran will get the nod after his public criticism of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar´s handling of the recent hunger fast.

In addition, Mr Dookeran represents the marginal seat of Tunapuna and it is even more unlikely that the government would want to risk a by-election in the event that Dookeran would have to resign his seat in favour of the presidency.

It is however a foregone conclusion that whoever is selected by the Government, will be the President given the overwhelming majority enjoyed by the People’s Partnership. The PNM has signalled that it too would nominate its own candidate, but this a mere formality as the Government’s majority will triumph. In any case the PNM has a more serious issue on its hand right now – holding on to office in Tobago in the January 21 THA election.

It is therefore paying more attention to that election than to the presidential election although PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley has demonstrated that he holds the President of Trinidad and Tobago in high regard by writing to him and virtually believing that the President has the power to take the Prime Minister to court to compel her to answer questions. Many see the president as merely the ceremonial embodiment of the values of the nation of Trinidad and Tobago but who is also mandated by the TT constitution to be the key check and balance on exercise of executive power.

However, we urge that the person selected is able to retain the confidence of the nation across a broad spectrum, in his or her personal qualities, profession, abilities and temperament.

While the president is ultimately chosen according to the wishes of the government of the day, nonetheless, we believe he or she should not be regarded as a creature of the government, but be seen as one willing to rein in any excesses of the executive. In this regard, President Richards has been criticised for standing by and allowing former Prime Minister Patrick Manning to run riot in the country, taking as far as we know, no objection to the millions Manning was spending on the grand Diplomatic Centre at St Ann’s – and even the questionable funding of the Church of the Prophetess at Guanapo – while President’s House collapsed in ruin.

On the other hand however, we don’t need a situation where the president and the government are at odds with one another. That’s why in selection of their nominee all governments prefer to err on the side of loyalty to its side. We acknowledge the value of loyalty. But we acknowledge the value of integrity even more.

We have no preferences for president at this stage, but we ask that the president chosen should be a person of integrity and not a rubber stamp for any government.

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