January 5, 2001

Trinidad president warns against
'dictatorship' in standoff with PM


                  PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) -- Saying he will not be party to an abuse of
                  power that might lead to dictatorship, Trinidad's president addressed the nation
                  Friday to stand firm in his refusal to appoint failed electoral candidates to the

                  "I've heard that what the prime minister wants he must get," President A.N.R.
                  Robinson said in a televised speech. "That's where dictatorship arises," he

                  He said he will continue to refuse Prime Minister Basdeo Panday's demands that
                  he appoint as Cabinet ministers seven failed candidates at December 11 general
                  elections narrowly won by Panday's United National Congress.

                  Racially charged elections in the country thriving on U.S. and European
                  investment in its petroleum and natural gas industry pitted black Trinidadians
                  descended from African slaves against descendants of East Indian indentured

                  Tensions increased Friday after police received two telephone bomb threats
                  against the prime minister's residence and offices, both, they said, made by the
                  same person.

                  A bomb squad found no explosives after evacuating both buildings, but police
                  have strengthened security in downtown Port-of-Spain, the Ministry of National
                  Security said.

                  That ministry currently is without a minister because of the stalemate.

                  The former British colony's 1.3 million people are about evenly divided between
                  the two groups and Panday in 1995 became the first leader of Indian descent,
                  ending decades of political domination by Afro-Trinidadians.

                  Now it is in a constitutional crisis with the president, an Afro-Trinidadian in a
                  largely ceremonial position, in a standoff with the prime minister, who runs the

                  While nothing in the constitution prevents the Cabinet appointments of losers at
                  the polls, Robinson has said that to appoint failed electoral candidates is an insult
                  to voters who refused their leadership.

                  Panday has said he can appoint whomever he pleases.

                  "If it's seven today, it can be 14 tomorrow," Robinson said in his address.
                  "Dictatorships have risen under the influence of the power of a single man."

                  There was no immediate comment from Panday, who has just signed a
                  proclamation for Parliament to open January 12, and both men have said they
                  will not change their minds.

                  Business leaders, concerned the impasse could hurt the economic boom fueled
                  largely by the business-minded Panday, said in a joint statement that the
                  president's delay is a matter of "grave concern."

                  And the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago has said that the constitution
                  states clearly that the president should act on the advice of the prime minister.

                  But Robinson, whose actions cannot be challenged in court under the
                  constitution, says he should not have to act as a "rubber stamp."

                  Dr. Hamid Ghany, head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the
                  University of the West Indies, said the president was asserting executive power.

                  "Effectively you have the beginnings of an executive presidency," he said.
                  "Future prime ministers beware."