Swiftly assuming authority, new UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar appointed new UNC chairman Jack Warner as chief whip in Parliament yesterday–overturning a decision by former leader Basdeo Panday. Warner now sits at the head of the Opposition row. The new arrangement further placed Panday, the Opposition Leader, in the awkward position of sitting between Warner and Persad-Bissessar in the Lower House. And Persad-Bissessar's move to replace former chief whip Dr Hamza Rafeeq, who was appointed by Panday, has met adverse reaction from UNC MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, who was to have acted as chief whip yesterday. Moonilal, one of Persad-Bissessar's new deputy leaders, said he was not consulted on Warner's appointment or Rafeeq's removal. He and other UNC MPs hinted that the development may affect their decision in considering whether to support Persad-Bissessar's bid to obtain the post of Opposition Leader.
The issue was part of yesterday's high drama as Persad-Bissessar, Warner and other UNC MPs entered the House of Representatives for the first time since Persad-Bissessar became UNC leader in a historic party election on Sunday. Clad in a burgundy coloured jacket–adorned with diamante lapel pin– and black skirt, Persad-Bissessar arrived in Parliament early yesterday. Arriving shortly after her was Prime Minister Patrick Manning. During yesterday's debate, Manning intervened briefly to congratulate Persad-Bissessar. She was also congratulated by Clerk of the Parliament Jacquie Sampson. Before Persad-Bissessar's arrival, however, Parliament staff had changed the nameplates on the UNC's Opposition side to accommodate Persad-Bissessar's first edict. Warner's nameplate was moved from the backbench to the first desk which former chief whip Rafeeq usually occupied.
The Chaguanas MP had been sitting on the UNC's backbench since last year–along with MPs Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Winston Peters–when Panday replaced Maharaj as chief whip when the rift with the Ramjack faction opened up. Warner now sits at Panday's right hand while Persad-Bissessar's seat is to Panday's left. Rafeeq's nameplate was placed at Persad-Bissessar's left. All other UNC MPs were moved down a seat to accommodate the changes. Remaining on the UNC backbenches were MPs Harry Partap and Nizam Baksh (who support Persad-Bissessar) as well as Maharaj. MPs such as Moonilal, Vasant Bharath and Mickela Panday who had entered the Parliament by then, did not speak to Warner, but instead traded picong with PNM MPs. PNM Information Minister Neil Parsanlal came over to shake the hands of each of them and chat. He concluded with congratulating Warner also.
When proceedings began, Speaker Barendra Sinanan listed former chief whip Rafeeq among those MPs who were on leave. Sinanan said Rafeeq was on leave from yesterday until February 12. Rafeeq is ill. Former UNC leader Panday who entered the Parliament soon after, offered his chair to Persad-Bissessar who, in turn, rose to greet him. Panday asked if she would like to sit in the chair. However, she stuck to her seat and he took his between Persad-Bissessar and Warner. From there, Panday and PNM MPs, including Manning, Colm Imbert and and Karen Tesheira, traded picong on the UNC's election outcome. PNM's Imbert also traded jokes with Warner. During the session, Warner and Persad-Bissessar spoke several times to each other behind Panday's chair, and also passed each other notes across him. Panday did not speak to Persad-Bissessar or Warner during the session. Panday later said he was surprised at Warner's appointment as chief whip.