December 15, 2001

Trinidad's president to select successor

                 PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) -- The prime minister and opposition leader
                 scrapped plans to form a coalition government to end an elections tie, saying
                 Saturday they'll leave it up to the president to decide who should lead the
                 oil-rich Caribbean nation.

                 President Arthur Robinson, a longtime rival of incumbent Prime Minister Basdeo
                 Panday, has not announced when he will make a decision, spokesman Arnold
                 Corneal said. Robinson, whose post is mostly ceremonial, was expected to wait for
                 recounts in two districts to be completed early next week.

                 "I am not aware of coalition governments working anywhere," said Manning, head
                 of the opposition People's National Movement and a former prime minister. "We
                 have our own experience of 1986 and 1995 when coalition governments did not work."

                 Manning's party and Panday's United National Congress each won 18 seats in the
                 36-seat Parliament in December 10 elections.

                 The elections sharpened tensions between descendants of African slaves and
                 descendants of East Indian indentured laborers, who almost evenly split the
                 country's population of 1.3 million. Manning's party is supported mainly by
                 Afro-Trinidadians, and Panday's is backed mostly by people of East Indian descent.

                 Panday became Trinidad and Tobago's first East Indian leader when he won his
                 first term in 1995. His party won elections in 2000, but he called elections four
                 years early when a split in his party threatened to dissolve his thin majority in the

                 Panday and Manning announced in separate news conferences Saturday they had
                 reached an agreement that would grant a mandate to govern to the party Robinson
                 ch ooses, even though it won't have a majority in Parliament.

                 "There were many things that both sides wanted but did not get, the agreement
                 allows us to break the deadlock and move forward," Panday said.

                 Also, as part of the agreement, the party that takes power would investigate
                 allegations of corruption into several government projects under the Panday
                 administration. Panday's critics alleged his government was lax on corruption,
                 although Panday said he was working to clean up graft.

                 The questionable projects and decisions include the construction of an airport, the
                 awarding of telecommunication licenses and the contracting of foreign companies
                 to generate electricity.

                 The government also would investigate the electoral system and reform the
                 constitution, which did not give clear instructions on how an elections tie should be

                 Both parties also agreed to be more cooperative in Parliament to avoid deadlocking
                 on legislation. In cases of a tie in Parliament voting, the bill simply would not be
                 approved. Also, they agreed that legislators would not change parties in a bid to win
                 a Parliament majority.

                 Both party leaders agreed fresh elections must be called, but they have not
                 determined when.

                 Panday's and Robinson's rocky relationship goes back years. After Panday's
                 election victory last year, Robinson refused to appoint seven losing candidates to
                 the Cabinet, saying it went against the voters' will. He eventually gave in to Panday
                 and appointed the seven.

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.