United National Congress
|United National Congress|
|Headquarters||Rienzi Complex, Southern Main Road, Couva|
|House of Representatives||
(24 May 2010 – present)
(21 October 2013 – present)
|Politics of Trinidad and Tobago
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Trinidad and Tobago
The United National Congress (UNC) is one of the two major political parties in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and one of the parties in the current ruling coalition. 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 its own). In the 2000 general elections, the UNC won an absolute majority in the Parliament. In 2001, a split in the party caused the UNC to lose its parliamentary majority and control of the government. Between 1991 and 1995, and again from 2001 to 2010, the UNC was the Parliamentary Opposition party. In May 2010, the UNC returned to government as the majority party in the People's Partnership, the current ruling coalition in Trinidad and Tobago. With this victory, the UNC's political leader Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar was sworn in as Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the first female to hold this position.
The party was founded in 30th April 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) which was chaired by Dr. Rampersad Parasram. CLUB 88 evolved into the United National Congress with Panday as leader and Dr. Rampersad Parasram as its first chairman. 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 by-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).
The UNC formed the Government of Trinidad and Tobago between 1995- 2001 and was returned to government in May 2010 in partnership with the Congress of the People, NJAC, MSJ and TOP (a Tobago based Party). Mrs. Kamla Persad Bissessar is the current political leader and Prime Minster.
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.
At the last legislative elections, 7 October 2002, the party won 46.5% of popular votes and 16 out of 36 seats in the House of Representatives. This made it the opposition in parliament to the ruling People's National Movement (PNM) government, which held 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 themselves to be "independent UNC members" and relocated to the Opposition backbenches. On 31 May 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 2 September 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 . 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 2 October, 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 reconciled 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 19 February. At that rally Dookeran, who spoke before Maharaj, criticized his party for accepting Maharaj back in. Dookeran was roundly booed by the crowd.
On 8 March 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 24 April Basdeo Panday was convicted of fraud for failing to disclose 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 25 April Basdeo Panday's appointment as Opposition Leader was revoked by President Richards. On 26 April in a surprise move seven UNC MPs announced their support of Deputy Political Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar as the new Opposition Leader. On 27 April 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 bail on Friday 28 April, on the ground of his medical ailments. Following his release on bail, he tendered his resignation as Chairman of the party on 1 May 2006. However, the UNC executive have thus far refused to accept his resignation.
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 in a public display attempted to broker a reconciliation between the two factions. This proved fruitless. Many people in the country including members of Mr. Panday's own support team privately shared the view that it was Mr. Panday who worked behind the scene to undermine Mr. Dookeran's support within the Executive of the UNC. Mr Dookeran who was the actual and legitimate Political Leader of the UNC should have the full powers that accompanies that position as articulated in the Party's Constitution. However, Mr. Dookeran's call for internal change within the UNC had a negative effect on some of the 'old guards' who felt their own position threatened. Panday and the Executive spoke about a collective leadership concept, but the culture of the UNC with Mr. Panday was opposed to that claim.
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 10 September at a large rally, Dookeran announced his resignation as UNC Political Leader and the formation of a new party the Congress of the People, under his leadership. On 11 September Panday resumed the Chairmanship of the party.
On 3 January 2007 Panday was reinstated as Political leader of the party.
New Political Leader
On 24 January 2010, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, an MP representing Siparia, was elected the new leader of the United National Congress. Her victory, with 13,932 votes over 1,359 for party founder Basdeo Panday and 1,072 for fellow challenger Ramesh Maharaj, MP representing Tabaquite, made Persad-Bissessar the first female leader of a major political party in Trinidad and Tobago.
Government once more
Based on a campaign of change against the PNM, the UNC was successful in the 2010 general election on 24 May 2010, and Persad-Bissessar was appointed as the first ever female Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. The UNC won a majority of 19 seats but they ran as a coalition with the Congress of the People (winning 6 seats), and the Tobago Organization of the People (winning 2 seats, both of Tobago's seats), giving the coalition a total of 27 seats. Since that time the coalition has seen significant signs of weakening. The Movement for Social Justice left the coalition due to discontent with running of government. The Tobago Organization of the People failed to win a single seat in the 2013 Tobago House of Assembly elections.
Since assuming office on May 24, there have been allegations of corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and racism, none of which have been proven to be true to date. Controversies include a state of emergency ostensibly due to crime, which resulted in hundreds of illegal firearms and millions of dollars in narcotics being seized, as well as hundreds of persons with outstanding warrants being arrested. There was a 60% drop in murders and 51% drop in other serious crimes for the three-month period. There was also an unproven plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, for which several individuals were arrested and later freed without charge; and scandals involving government ministers and other state officials, most notably former FIFA Vice-President and Minister of National Security, Jack Warner. Since the UNC has come into office Trinidad & Tobago has also fallen in the Corruption Perceptions Index. However, there has been a 36% drop in serious crimes, a decrease in the poverty rate, and widespread infrastructure development in all areas of the country, despite claims of racism and nepotism. The government has also spent billions of dollars since coming into office, which has greatly benefited the Trinidad and Tobago economy, with promises of billions more coming in from foreign direct investment. 
- Seuraj, Indarjit, Jail can’t cope with serious illness...Panday granted bail, Trinidad Guardian, 29 April 2006.
- Panday stuns crowd, Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 3 May 2006
- Alexander, Gail, UNC execs want Panday to stay, Trinidad Guardian, 3 May 2006.
- See for more information Trinidad and Tobago general election, 2007.