Little support for Paray in call for UNC party elections

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Member of Parliament for Mayaro Rushton Paray speaks during a press conference at the Couva Chamber of Commerce Hall. – Ayanna Kinsale

One day after publicly calling for the UNC to hold internal elections which are constitutionally due in June and warning the party could lose next year’s general election if those elections are not held, Mayaro MP Rushton Paray has seemingly found himself to be a man who is politically alone in UNC.

Within this time, the majority of his elected immediate parliamentary colleagues distanced themselves from him and lined up behind Opposition Leader and party political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

While Paray has gotten support from some former UNC parliamentarians, they believe he is fighting a losing battle because the UNC lacks the democratic environment needed for his call to succeed.

At a news conference in Couva on March 22, Paray said, “Today we are all making this public demand because we have a grave concern that there is an attempt from the executive to devalue the UNC’s internal election by suggesting it is not necessary or not even needed.”

The party is constitutionally due to hold elections for all posts on its national executive (Natex) in June, with the exception of political leader.

The election for that post is due next year. Paray believes the talk of a general election was simply a ruse intended to suppress the voice of the UNC’s membership.

He said he was not afraid about becoming an outcast within the UNC for taking this stand.

At a news conference at the Opposition Leader’s office in Port of Spain, Persad-Bissessar dismissed Paray’s call. “We follow the party’s constitution and anyone who wants to jump the gun will wait their turn. Now is not the time for that.

The focus, we must stay laser-focused, on doing all that we can to try and rescue the people of this country.” Persad-Bissessar did not call Paray by name when she made her statements. “So good luck to all the wannabes. Sometimes they are, what it is, their ambitions, outweigh their talents. I wish them good luck.”

Before she won the post of political leader from party founder Basdeo Panday in the UNC’s internal elections on January 24, 2010, Persad-Bissessar demanded party elections be held when they were constitutionally due.

She also then expressed concerns about the UNC not being strong enough to defeat the PNM in a general election if its internal political dynamics were out of alignment.

The UNC has 19 MPs in the House of Representatives. Persad-Bissessar and Paray are two of them. Out of the remaining 17, more than half of them (11) support Persad-Bissessar and reject Paray’s position.

On March 22, UNC MPs Davendranath Tancoo, Khadijah Ameen, David Lee, and Rodney Charles lined up behind Persad-Bissessar. Charles indicated last year he will not stand for re-election in 2025.

On Saturday, they were joined by UNC MPs Dr. Roodal Moonilal, Barry Padarath, Saddam Hosein, Rudranath Indarsingh. Ravi Ratiram, and Dr. Rishard Seecharan.

Among those not making their positions known were UNC MPs Dinesh Rambally, Anita Haynes-Alleyne, Vandana Mohit, Arnold Ram, and Michelle Benjamin.

Moonilal, who is one of three UNC deputy leaders, said, “I express my total support for the political leader, the Honourable Kamla Persad Bissessar, and my colleagues on the National Executive.”

Lee and Opposition Senator Jearlean John are the other deputy leaders. Moonilal said the UNC functioned well last year and this led to “a well-received victory in the last local government elections (last August).”

Those elections ended in a 7-7 tie between the PNM and UNC. Moonilal said, “The party has been highly mobilized and active under the current leadership. Internal elections will be held according to our party’s constitution. There has been no discussion or decision to postpone any elections.”

He lamented that Paray’s public comments on March 22 were premature and “can only seek to destabilize and undermine the party and in so doing assist fully the PNM.”

Moonilal identified sacrifice, dedication, and hard work every day as the keys to winning or losing any election. “It is not simply a function of internal elections.”

Moonilal said the UNC now has the PNM on the back foot and is “in pole position to return to national office.” He reiterated this made Paray’s comments untimely and unhelpful to the UNC’s goals.

Padarath said, “Rushton Paray is a political neophyte and a coward who is only interested in internal elections to further his misguided and warped political ambition.

Mr. Paray has not worked with any arm of the party or any part of the country (outside of Mayaro) to assist the party in any election.”

He added that he and other party colleagues had to go into Mayaro during last year’s local government elections when Paray chose to go abroad then. “My colleagues and I, including the political Leader, have been working to build the party, it appears Paray has been working to build himself.”

He said, “We are confident that the work that we have been doing will ensure a win at the polls, the work was started several years ago. Indarsingh said as a businessman, Paray should know about supply and demand.

He added TT is demanding the removal of the PNM and the UNC is poised to supply this. Indarsingh advised Paray, “Don’t rush the brush.” He urged Paray to demonstrate party discipline and respect for its leadership.

Ratiram, who has been party organizer since December 5, 2015, said Persad-Bissessar has demonstrated a long history and track record of upholding and abiding by the party’s constitution and standing up for democracy.

“From then to now, over the past eight years and three months, our party has held four internal elections, where Mrs. Persad-Bissessar continuously received resounding support from our members to lead and take our party forward.”

The last UNC internal elections were held on December 5, 2015, November 26, 2017, December 6, 2020, and June 26, 2022. Ratiram viewed Paray’s comments as an attempt to divert the UNC’s focus away from key issues affecting citizens. He claimed Paray’s rationale is completely absurd, selfish, and reckless.

Hosein said all arms of the party are behind Persad-Bissessar and working to remove the PNM from office. He added that prior to being a senator and an MP, he served the UNC as a street captain and youth officer.

Hosein dismissed any leadership ambition that Paray has. “One must first creep before one can walk.” Seecharan said he would defer to the judgment of the party’s leadership. “I have full confidence in Kamla Persad-Bissessar as the leader (of the UNC) and her ability to guide the party to victory in the general election whenever it is called.”

Former UNC parliamentarians Fuad Khan, Vasant Bharath, and Devant Maharaj expressed their support for Paray’s position.

But each of them admitted that Paray was facing an uphill battle to achieve his goals.

Khan and Bharath unsuccessfully challenged Persad-Bissessar for the UNC’s leadership in previous internal elections.

Khan said, “Rushton is correct in his analysis but he should be aware that the UNC party and its constitution have been relegated to a time when the UNC constitution meant something.”

UNC internal elections, he claimed, are not free or fair and fraught with manipulation. Khan predicted the PNM will win next year’s general election.

Bharath said he has been on record since 2015 that all of the UNC’s organs are either non-existent or dysfunctional under Persad-Bissessar.

Bharath served as food production minister, trade and industry minister and minister in the ministry of finance in the former UNC-led People’s Partnership (PP) coalition government. Maharaj agreed with the points raised by Khan and Bharath.