UNC/NTA coalition talks pushed to after local government by-election

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

National Transformation Alliance leader Gary Griffith. – File photo by Ayanna Kinsale

NATIONAL Transformation Alliance (NTA) political leader Gary Griffith says the party will wait to see what happens after the June 17 by-elections in Lengua/Indian Walk and Morne Diablo/Quinam with respect to a possible alliance between the NTA and the UNC for next year’s general election.

He made these comments after preliminary results in the UNC’s internal elections on June 15 saw the incumbent Star slate defeating the United Patriots 213,651 to 62,186 votes.

After she voted at Debe Secondary School on June 15, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she would deal with “external people” after the UNC’s internal elections are over.

The comment referred to a letter sent to her on June 12 by Griffith.

In his letter, Griffith asked her to clarify whether or not the NTA and UNC will form an alliance to challenge the PNM in next year’s general election.

Griffith also asked Persad-Bissessar to respond to comments reportedly made by UNC deputy leader Jearlean John against him.

In the Star slate’s clean sweep in the UNC elections, John successfully retained her deputy political leader post.

At a news conference at McBean, Couva on June 16, Mayaro MP Rushton Paray called upon the incoming Star UNC national executive (natex) to “present a viable programme to harness all available talent to compete effectively against the inept PNM administration.”

Paray was the leader of the United Patriots slate and unsuccessfully contested a deputy political leader post in the elections.

Asked whether this call to the natex was also one to Persad-Bissessar to meet immediately with Griffith to establish a proper UNC-NTA alliance for the general election, Paray said, “I can’t speak on behalf of what’s in the minds of Mrs Persad-Bissessar or even the incoming natex.”

From day one, he continued, the Patriots advanced the position that they would be “open to every discussion with any group, any person, who would have had an interest in national development.”

While the elections are over, Paray said he will continue to champion a space within the UNC to hold this discussion.

“Whether they (natex) go for it or not, that will be a decision for that leadership team to make. It remains in my view that it is an important issue.”

In a Whatsapp response sent to Newsday, Griffith congratulated the members of the newly-elected UNC natex.

“I do know the difficulty in trying to bring everyone back together after a UNC internal election. It can be very, very lethal at times.

“I remember I was in the last time that the UNC had such an intense election was in 2006, where it was the (Basdeo) Panday slate versus the (Winston) Dookeran slate. The Panday slate was, in fact, known as the Patriots. The Dookeran slate was the Progressives and only three of us were actually able to win out seats (for the Progressives). That would have been Sadiq Baksh, Manohar Ramsaran and myself, and it was 12 to three going into that executive.”

While the preliminary results of the June 15 elections show a clean sweep for the Star slate, Griffith said, “We (NTA) will just sit back and wait to see what happens in the very near future.”

He repeated that TT’s political history was replete with examples of third parties contesting general elections on their own and facilitating PNM victories and the PNM being defeated at the polls when these parties formed coalitions against it.

Griffith said he would be out of place to suggest what the UNC should or should not do.

“That is not my business. However, all I can do, being a previous UNC member, seeing what happened in the last major, internal civil war that led to amputation and the votes being split down the middle with the party breaking up that caused the PNM to easily win in 2007.

“My hope is that now that the internal civil war has ended, it is time now to embrace, unite, appreciate the views of everyone and for us to move towards one common goal, which is to ensure that we have a proper government very soon.”

The NTA and UNC contested last August’s local government elections as a coalition against the PNM.

Those elections ended in a seven-seven tie between the PNM and UNC.

The NTA did not win any electoral districts in any of the 14 local government corporations in those elections.

On May 31, Griffith said if the UNC did not want to form a proper alliance with the NTA to contest the next general election against the PNM, the NTA would fight both parties across the board in all 41 constituencies.

He said in such a scenario, the NTA would direct the majority of its political resources into key marginal constituencies of which the PNM and UNC must win a majority to be elected to government in 2025.

In February, Griffith and Persad-Bissessar fell out over statements Persad-Bissessar made at a UNC public meeting about other parties taking advantage of the UNC’s resources but contributing nothing in return.

Griffith said there were other members of the current UNC natex who believed the party could win the next election on its own.

The NTA, Griffith continued, would not allow itself to be the victim of “domestic political violence” in an arrangement that sees the UNC contesting its strongholds and the marginals but leaving the NTA to fight the PNM in 12-15 of its safe seats.

Any arrangement which sees UNC candidates benefiting from NTA votes with no reciprocation was unacceptable, Griffith said.