United National Congress

United National Congress

The United National Congress (UNC) is one of the two major political organisations in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It was founded by Basdeo Panday, a lawyer and former trade unionist. The UNC was formed as the result of a split in the ruling National Alliance for Reconstruction in 1988. After spending six years in Opposition, the UNC won control of the government in 1995 (initially in coalition with the National Alliance for Reconstruction and later on their own. In the 2000 General Elections the UNC won an absolute majority in Parliament. In 2001 a split in the party caused the UNC to lose its parliamentary majority. As a consequence of this the UNC lost control of the government. Between 1991 and 1995 and again since 2001 the UNC has been the Parliamentary Opposition party. Although many people see the UNC as the successor party to the United Labour Front, the UNC managed to attract much broader support than did any previous Indo-Trinidadian-dominated party.

The party symbol is the rising sun above the Trinity Hills.

Opposition party

The party was founded in 1989 following a split in the ruling National Alliance for Reconstruction. In that split 6 MPs (including Panday) all of whom were former members of the United Labour Front left the NAR to form the Caucus for Love, Unity and Brotherhood 1988 (CLUB 88). CLUB 88 evolved into the United National Congress with Panday as leader. Panday had also been the leader of the United Labour Front

The UNC won 13 seats in the 1991 General Elections and became the official opposition. It won a 14th seat in a bye-election and gained another in 1995 when Ralph Maraj defected from the PNM. In 1995 Hulsie Bhaggan, MP for Chaguanas left the party to form the Movement for Unity and Progress (MUP).

Governing party

In General Elections held in 1995 the UNC won 17 of 36 seats, and formed a coalition government with the National Alliance for Reconstruction which won 2 seats. In exchange for his support, NAR political leader ANR Robinson was first appointed Minister Extraordinaire and then elected President in 1997. Two PNM MPs defected from the party and supported the UNC as independent members. This gave the UNC an absolute majority, and led to deterioration in relations with the NAR.

In the 2000 elections the UNC won 19 seats forming the government outright. However, internal party elections in 2001 highlighted a rift in the party with Panday and Attorney-General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj in effect fielding rival slates. Maharaj's slate termed itself 'Team Unity'. Panday was not challenged as Political Leader but Maharaj's slate won 21 of the 24 other executive posts. Maharaj himself was elected as the new Deputy Leader.

This did not translate into increased prestige for Maharaj in the government as Panday refused to recommend Maharaj as Acting Prime Minister in his absence. Maharaj countered by initiating investigations into charges of corruption by Panday and his supporters. Panday then reduced the ministerial portfolios of Maharaj and his supporters. This led to the defection of Maharaj; Agriculture Minister, Trevor Sudama and Information Technology Minister, Ralph Maraj who formed the new party Team Unity. This led to the calling of early elections in 2001 in which the UNC were reduced to 18 seats in the House of Representatives. The opposition People's National Movement, which also won 18 seats, was called upon to form the government.

Opposition again

At the last legislative elections, October 7, 2002, the party won 46.5% of popular votes and 16 out of 36 seats in the House of Representatives. This makes it the current opposition in parliament to the ruling People's National Movement (PNM) government, which holds the other 20 seats.

In April 2005 the UNC was further weakened when Pointe-à-Pierre MP Gillian Lucky and San Juan MP Fuad Khan declared themeselved to be "independent UNC members" and relocated to the Opposition backbenches. On May 31, 2005, Basdeo Panday, together with his wife Oma, former UNC MP Carlos John and party financier Ishwar Galbaransingh were arrested for bribery. Basdeo Panday refused bail and remained in prison for eight days.

On September 2, 2005, Panday announced that he would be willing to hand over party leadership to Winston Dookeran (St. Augustine M.P.) if Panday could remain on as party chairman [http://www.guardian.co.tt/archives/2005-09-04/news5.html] .As a result of negotiations between the two, Dookeran was nominated unopposed for the post of Political Leader and Panday was nominated unopposed for the party Chairmanship. However, both fielded rival slates for the remaining 16 executive posts. (The party had reorganized itself, reducing the executive from 25 to 18 posts, but also splitting the deputy leadership into three.)

On October 2, Basdeo Panday's slate won 12 of the posts including two of the three deputy leader positions and (after a recount) the vice-chairmanship. Dookeran's slate won the 4 remaining posts. Members of the slate backed by Dookeran have called for Basdeo Panday to step down as Leader of the Opposition. Gerald Yetming, MP for St. Joseph joined the Opposition back benches in protest of Basdeo Panday's failure to relinquish the position of Leader of the Opposition.

In February 2006 Panday announced that he had reconcilled with Ramesh Maharaj. Maharaj was to mark his return to the party by speaking at a party rally held at Mid-Centre Mall in Chaguanas on February 19. At that rally Dookeran, who spoke before Maharaj, criticised his party for accepting Maharaj back in. Dookeran was roundly booed by the crowd.

On March 8 2006, Yetming announced he was formally leaving the UNC and would serve out his term as an Independent. His chief reason was the return of Maharaj to the UNC, a move which he opposed but which was endorsed by Basdeo Panday.

As internal wranglings continued in the party it appeared that a rift between Dookeran and the Executive was deepening. Newspaper accounts indicated that pro-Panday executive and Dookeran were largely functioning independently of each other. Dookeran also suffered a loss of support as Deputy Leader Jack Warner and Roodal Moonilal (MP for Oropouche), switched sides and announced their support of Panday.

In March Senator Robin Montano had his appointment as Senator revoked by Panday. Montano had both supported Dookeran and opposed the return of Ramesh Maharaj to the UNC.

On the April 24 Basdeo Panday was convicted of fraud for failing to dislose a bank account under the rules of the Integrity Act. He was sentenced to 2 years hard labour. At the UNC rally held that night Dookeran was not permitted to speak on the platform. Maharaj, however was seated centre stage at that rally.

On the April 25 Basdeo Panday's appointment as Opposition Leader was revoked by President Richards. On April 26 in a surprise move seven UNC MPs announced their support of Deputy Political Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar as the new Opposition Leader. On April 27 Persad-Bissessar was appointed Opposition Leader and she stated that she would step aside should Panday's appeal prove successful.

The Courts released Basdeo Panday on TT$300,000.00 bail at 6:30 p.m. on Friday April 28, on the ground of his medical ailments. [Seuraj, Indarjit, [http://guardian.co.tt/archives/2006-04-29/news4.html Jail can’t cope with serious illness...Panday granted bail] , "Trinidad Guardian", April 29, 2006.] Following his release on bail, he tendered his resignation as Chairman of the party on May 1, 2006. [ [http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,36817.html Panday stuns crowd] , "Trinidad and Tobago Newsday", May 3, 2006] However, the UNC executive have thus far refused to accept his resignation. [Alexander, Gail, [http://guardian.co.tt/archives/2006-05-03/news1.html UNC execs want Panday to stay] , "Trinidad Guardian", May 3, 2006.]

In the months following, the infighting in the UNC increased. Political Leader Dookeran and the party Executive entrenched their opposing positions. Dookeran organised his own personal political apparatus and held political meetings without the Executive's consent. He also ceased to attend Executive meeting. His few allies on the executive were removed. Opposition Leader Persad-Bissessar also replaced Dookeran's supporters in the appointed Senate.

In August 2006 however Panday returned to active politics and attempted to broker a reconcilition between the two factions. This proved fruitless. Dookeran wanted the full powers that Panday had exercised while Panday and the Executive wished for a collective leadership.

The UNC was split into two factions, with the Panday loyalists organised into a five member Leadership Council. The Leadership Council was composed of the three Deputy Leaders (Persad -Bissessar, Wade Mark, Jack Warner), the Party CEO Tim Gopeesingh and newly returned Ramesh L. Maharaj. Panday was said to have been appointed as an advisor to the Council.

On September 10 at a large rally organised as a UNC event, Dookeran announced his resignation as UNC Political Leader and the formation of a new party the Congress of the People, under his leadership. On September 11 Panday resumed the Chairmanship of the party.

In January 3rd 2007 Panday was reinstated as Political leader of the party.

In the 5 November 2007 parliamentary elections, the party won 29.73 % and 15 out of 41 seats [See for more information Trinidad and Tobago general election, 2007.] .


External links

* [http://www.unc.org.tt Official Website of the United National Congress]

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