An unprecedented opposition motion seeking to remove Trinidad’s ceremonial president for misconduct in office failed miserably on Thursday but the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) Friday vowed to step up its game and make Prime Minister Keith Rowley the target of its next parliamentary no confidence effort.
Clearly embarrassed and put on the political back foot by the 47-24 vote tally of the island’s electoral college comprising the house and the senate, leader and former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said her party’s political sights will now be turned on Rowley as she and other opposition lawmakers heaped scorn on several independent senators who voted with legislators from the governing People’s National Movement (PNM).
The UNC had drafted the motion against titular President Paula Mae Weeks, accusing her of colluding with Rowley and his cabinet to undermine the independence of the constitutionally-protected police service commission. The body has been embroiled in a bitter controversy over the appointment of a new police chief. Most of its members have resigned hinting about procedural discomfort with recent events even as officials are struggling to name new commissioners.
Weekes, a former judge in Trinidad and the Eastern Caribbean, is the first woman president of the twin island republic with Tobago. Appointed to wide acclaim in 2018, she has not said much on the issue apart from denying breaching procedures regarding the PSC and its links to state agencies.
From all appearances, the UNC is attempting to mirror the successful late 2018 effort of the then opposition but now governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in neighboring Guyana as it had persuaded a single government lawmaker to vote with it and erase the wafer thin, one seat majority that the government had. Hamstrung by its parliamentary defeat, the multiparty coalition called elections just over a year later and lost to the PPP.
“It’s coming. The last time I brought a no-confidence motion against the prime minister in 2010 the government fell, so it’s coming in due course. This matter will be kept alive long after today until the truth is revealed. We will take it onto the people as an October revolution as happened in other countries when a constitution has failed. The prime minister will find no rock large enough to hide under or no robe thick enough to protect him from the firestorm that will come his way as a wage for treading on our sacred constitution,” and angry Persad-Bissessar told reporters.
The parliamentary session was marred by loud desk thumping, verbal interruptions and shouts from the chair, forcing Speaker Brigid Annisette-George to several times cut the microphones of several opposition lawmakers. Rowley said he remains flabbergasted by the conduct of his opponents during the controversial sitting.
“There’s one word to describe what happened today and it is disgraceful. But I’m not surprised. It is not the first time that this opposition leader, this person, has led people to disgrace this country. This is my country and all I can say of them, they are a group of disgraceful people, unfit and unworthy of public office,” Rowley said.
The Guardian Newspaper, meanwhile, quoted respected attorney Martin Daly as saying that the motion basically never stood a chance of making it, calling the loss “a very bad day. They were flat-footed, frustrated and fulminated because they were trapped by the guidelines that the speaker issued. And I believe the prime minister described the motion as ‘skimpy” and that it was,” he said.