December 13, 2001

Trinidad opposition leader makes power sharing proposal

                 PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) -- After a tie in parliamentary elections that
                 sparked a struggle for power, Trinidad's main opposition leader said he would
                 only consider sharing power with the current governing party if he becomes
                 prime minister.

                 It was unclear how Prime Minister Basdeo Panday would respond to the proposal
                 made Wednesday night by opposition leader Patrick Manning of the opposition
                 People's National Movement.

                 "The next prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago must be a PNM prime minister,"
                 Manning said after a meeting with his party's leaders at their headquarters in the
                 capital of Port-of-Spain.

                 Panday suggested the two parties share power after results from Monday's election
                 showed his United National Congress, supported mainly by those of East Indian
                 descent, tied 18-18 for 36 Parliament seats with the black-based National

                 However, Panday has not said he would be willing to surrender his leadership. He
                 did not immediately comment on Manning's proposal.

                 Panday, who was elected the country's first prime minister of East Indian descent
                 in 1995, announced he would consider all power-sharing options, including
                 alternating leadership. After meeting with Cabinet ministers Wednesday, however,
                 Panday said his proposal did not include relinquishing power.

                 "While I am offering to share power, not for one moment am I offering to
                 surrender power," he told The Express newspaper.

                 The elections sharpened tensions between descendants of African slaves and
                 descendants of East Indian indentured laborers, who almost evenly split the
                 country's population.

                 Panday called the elections four years early after dissent within his party threatened
                 to end its slim majority in Parliament.

                 Both the Indian-based governing party and the black-dominated opposition call
                 themselves pro-business and have promised to bring thousands of news jobs in the
                 next five years.

                 But the People's National Movement has accused Panday's government of tolerating
                 corruption and reserving government jobs for those of Indian descent. Panday's
                 supporters say he has brought economic progress and infrastructure

                 Analysts say a power-sharing agreement could be the only reasonable option at this
                 point without returning to the polls.

                 "People are looking for a reasonable arrangement to be worked out," said Hamid
                 Ghany, head of the department of behavioral sciences at The University of the West
                 Indies in Trinidad.

                 The electoral tie is unprecedented for the twin-island Caribbean nation, and the
                 constitution doesn't specify the next step.

                 Panday said the incumbent prime minister should be allowed to govern, while
                 Manning insisted it was up to the president to decide.

                 President Arthur Robinson, a longtime rival of Panday, has the authority to appoint
                 any Parliament member that he believes can command a majority as prime minister.
                 Robinson has made no public com ments.

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.