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By Nalinee Seelal and Clint Chan Tack Monday, February 4 2013

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WHO will be the country’s next President?

This is the question which Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will answer today in a live television broadcast from the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s. Her announcement will take place after an “emergency meeting” of all parliamentarians of the People’s Partnership Government at the Diplomatic Centre at noon.

Before this meeting takes place, Persad-Bissessar will meet with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley at the same venue at 11.30 am to discuss the Opposition’s recommendation that Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) judge Justice Rolston Nelson be considered as a nominee which Government and the Opposition could reach consensus on.

However speaking yesterday ahead of both meetings, United National Congress (UNC) chairman and National Security Minister Jack Warner bluntly declared there will be no consensus between Government and the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) on a nominee for President.

PNM public relations officer, Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi, yesterday said the Opposition remains optimistic that consensus on a nominee could be reached today. He rejected claims by Warner and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan that the PNM never got Nelson’s permission to put forward his name as a nominee.

Since the announcement by Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed at a post-Cabinet news conference on January 3 that the Electoral College of the Parliament will meet on February 15 to elect a new President to succeed incumbent President George Maxwell Richards whose term of office ends on March 17, speculation has been rife as to who will be chosen as the fifth President of the Republic.

Several names have been bandied about in the media over the last month as possible nominees. Among them, Speaker of the House of Representatives Wade Mark, Karl Hudson-Phillips QC, Kenneth Lalla SC, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma, former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and political analysts Dr Selwyn Ryan and Dr Hamid Ghany. Sunday Newsday yesterday reported that Justice Anthony Carmona and former Puisine Judge Amrika Tewari-Reddy have now emerged as the front runners to be chosen as Government’s nominee for President.

Carmona appears to have the edge because of Tewari-Reddy’s past political affiliations with the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) and the fact that several members of the current PP Government such as Persad-Bissessar started their political careers with the NAR. The Parliament’s records show that Tewari served as a NAR government senator from January 12, 1987 to November 19, 1991. She also acted as Attorney General during this period. The PNM has made it clear that it will not support any sitting parliamentarian or anyone with political affiliations to the People’s Partnership as a nominee for President.

This would appear to rule out Tewari-Reddy, Mark, Dookeran and Panday.

Sources also told Newsday that Persad-Bissessar has instructed that extensive background checks be done on the persons on her shortlist to ensure that whoever she announces today will be approved by the population.

However, Warner yesterday appeared to signal that Government will reject the Opposition’s proposal of Nelson as a consensus nominee.

“As far as I am concerned consensus is out of the window. The fact is the Government shall elect the President consistent with the laws of the land and there is nobody who will prevent that otherwise,” Warner declared. He further stated, “I also want to make the point that Dr Rowley continues to play games, that he did not ask (Justice) Rolston Nelson to use his name.”

“For me, this is the worst form of political prostitution that one could ever find in the 21st century,” Warner charged.

Asked by Newsday whether Carmona or Tewari-Reddy are in fact the front runners to be the Government’s nominee, Warner said he could neither confirm nor deny this.

Warner, Ramlogan and Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal are expected to be part of the Government’s team that Persad-Bissessar will lead in today’s meeting with the Opposition.

Al-Rawi, a member of the PNM team which will accompany Rowley to this meeting, rejected claims from Warner and Ramlogan that the PNM never got Nelson’s consent to put forward his name as a possible nominee.

“Dr Rowley confirmed to me that he did speak with Justice Nelson,” Al-Rawi said.

He said if Nelson had not given Rowley his consent, McDonald would never have written to Persad-Bissessar last Friday.

In her signed letter on Friday to Persad-Bissessar (which was copied to Rowley and to Moonilal) McDonald said: “Having heard your post-Cabinet press conference on Thursday January 31, 2013, it is the view of the Opposition that distinguished citizen Justice Rolston Nelson currently serving as a judge in the CCJ is an appropriate nominee to be considered by both parties.”

“We would appreciate a meeting with the Government to discuss this and any other proposal in an effort to obtain the right person to consensus,” McDonald said.

Al-Rawi did not say whether or not the PNM would support either Carmona or Tewari-Reddy as a nominee for President. While he has argued cases before Carmona and Tewari-Reddy in court and had “a lot of regard” for both of them, Al-Rawi said personal feelings and partisanship must be excluded in picking the right person to be President.

“At the end of the day, what is required here is the sober approach,” Al-Rawi said. Against this background, Al-Rawi said the PNM enters today’s meeting with Persad-Bissessar with the hope of “consensus building” even if the Prime Minister has already chosen her nominee.

The PNM has exactly 12 MPs in the House but cannot nominate anyone without the signature of to its “12th man”, San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning, who was granted extended sick leave from Parliament earlier this month. Section 30 of the Constitution requires a minimum of 12 MPs to sign a nomination paper for the person they want the Electoral College to consider to be Head of State. Their nominee must also sign the nomination paper which must be delivered to the Speaker at least seven days before the election.

Al-Rawi, McDonald and Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert will accompany Rowley to this morning’s meeting at the Diplomatic Centre.

Tomorrow (February 5) is Nomination Day and the election of the President takes place seven days later when the Electoral College convenes on February 15 at 2 pm at Tower D of the Port-of-Spain International Waterfront Centre. Newsday understands Manning is reluctant to get involved in the exercise of nominating a President, as he is focusing on recuperating from a stroke which he suffered at his Sumadh Gardens home in Vistabella on January 23, 2012.

Senior government officials yesterday said: “The Prime Minister has summoned all government parliamentarians to an emergency meeting at the Diplomatic Centre at noon where she will disclose the name of the nominee.”

During an impromptu appearance at last Thursday’s post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair, Persad-Bissessar said Government will select only one nominee for President and announce the name of that nominee today.

Persad-Bissessar will instruct her Cabinet ministers to rigidly adhere to the doctrine of collective responsibility and vote for the nominee she will announce today. She will further instruct all the Partnership’s parliamentarians to vote for this nominee when the Electoral College convenes in one week’s time.

Based on Section 30 of the Constitution neither the Congress of the People (COP) nor the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), which have elected MPs in the House, can propose a nominee without the consent of the United National Congress (UNC) which is led by Persad-Bissessar. The COP had proposed one of its six MPs, Dookeran, as a nominee. Newsday understands the COP withdrew this proposal and will accept whoever Persad-Bissessar picks. The TOP, which has two MPs, has not proposed a nominee and will also support the nominee who the Prime Minister will announce today.

Once Persad-Bissessar announces the name of the Government’s nominee, the nominee and 12 Government MPs will sign a nomination paper which will be submitted to the Speaker by tomorrow. The Electoral College, which comprises all members of the House and Senate, will be convened on February 15.

Section 28 (5) of the Constitution states that ten senators, the Speaker and 12 other members constitute a quorum for the College to function. Section 29 of the Constitution states the President “shall be elected by the Electoral College voting by secret ballot.”

The candidate who is unopposed or who obtains the greatest number of votes cast shall be declared elected as President. Where the votes cast for two or more candidates are equally divided, the Speaker has and will exercise a casting vote. However if Mark is nominated, Deputy Speaker Nela Khan will chair the College.

At the ceremonial opening of Parliament at Tower D last July, Persad-Bissessar said there was nothing in the Constitution which debars Richards from serving a third term as President. However Richards, 82, will not be the nominee who the Prime Minister will announce today.

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