??Dr Roodal Moonilal is a political survivor of sorts. Moonilal was the only member of the otherwise-decimated Basdeo Panday slate to be elected in the January 24 United National Congress executive election. Moonilal, Oropouche East Member of Parliament, was elected Deputy Political Leader. The Chairman of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee fielded relevant questions from the Sunday Guardian.
Q: You survived a political earthquake on January 24, you being the only candidate on the Panday slate to win your position. How did that happen?
A: It was always going to be a difficult election given the national hype, the first-time challenge to the founder and then undisputed leader and the introduction of national campaigning in what was essentially a small election in a private organisation. But I am also a founder member and stalwart with party experience in central and south Trinidad and I think in the end my political work and national imaging via the Parliament Channel assisted in giving me an edge. But I am sad that other good men and women from my slate did not make it, but that is democracy and politics.
Are you saying that bad men and women were elected?
You start that! No not at all; I am not familiar with some of my new colleagues, but I know others and we must always give a chance for all to perform. I cannot pre-judge new members of the executive.
As the sole survivor from the rival team, what has been your experience so far on the executive?
Well, there was no need to wear a helmet at the first meeting. People forget that although we were on different slates, many of us know each other from working in the party for several years. While there are new faces, others have been around from some time.
The campaign was particularly bitter and adversarial; a lot of harsh personal comments were made, I dare say by you as well. Does this impede the healing process?
No. I think, at the end of the day, we are all matured politicians. We know of the nature of Caribbean politics, the elements of banter, picong and platform rhetoric. After the campaign we need to put that behind us and work toward getting the UNC back into office.
That is easy for you to say, but do you really expect people who were subjected to deep personal attacks to forget?
It may take a longer time, but we must move forward and cannot linger on about what was said in the campaign.
What has been your experience with the political leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar coming from her landslide victory over Basdeo Panday?
Again, I remind you and our members that we have worked together for more than 15 years in the party, so we all know each other. I have been in touch with her and will give advice and assistance when called upon. Our interactions have always been pleasant for the past 15 years; I don't think it will change now.
And the colourful Jack Warner! Some say he has too much power in the UNC and threatens to capture the base of the party?
Mr Warner is indeed a character; he is also starting his tenure as chairman and I think we can only judge him after a reasonable period has elapsed. He has a method which is unique and can ruffle feathers and step on toes but the challenge is to work with all types of managers.
But what about his undue influence?
It is difficult for him not to influence, but there is a leader and team around him that will make joint decisions.
What do you see are your priorities?
A deputy political leader is there to assist the political leader. Ms Persad-Bissessar knows my skills, strengths and capacity and will call upon me to assist as she thinks fit. But I do have a strong commitment to matters of policy formulation, parliamentary affairs and opposition unity.
On this matter of Opposition unity, do you think the events of January 24 will lead to the collapse of the COP and Winston Dookeran?
There has been a lot of speculation about this. I imagine our fiends at the COP operations centre must also be concerned, but I think Mr Dookeran has cordoned off his core support base, or his third tribe, sufficiently to ensure that the COP has its feet in the door to unity. But I agree that we need first to arrange a framework for unity in the UNC before we open that door.
But time is of the essence. The local government election could be 90 days away.
Yes, but we cannot rush into unity talks or coalition-building if we ourselves are not clear on our objectives, our structure and framework for such a joint enterprise. The wider society would not trust us if they perceive that unity talks are really about snatching power and office from the PNM and each other.
Do you see a repeat of 1983, when a united opposition force beat the PNM in the local government election?
It is hard to compare. The PNM has since then garrisoned localities to ensure political survival, and this is a bigger challenge.
Do you mean voter padding through housing projects?
Yes, the demographics have changed since 1983, so there is a need to re-look approaches.
What do you think of Ms Persad-Bissessar's role so far?
It is quite early to say, but she has challenges given the aftermath of January 24, 2010. She has appeared to be patient, which in politics is not only a virtue but a weapon.
Is the indefatigable Basdeo Panday part of that challenge?
(Laughs loudly). He has always been a challenge in politics since 1966.
Don't escape the issue–what do you think of his continued grasping for power and office?
I don't think you can reduce it to such simplistic machinations. For a generation, Mr Panday represented the hopes and aspirations of a large section of the national community. Notwithstanding January 24, 2010, he still has a role to play in politics. Also, we seem to forget that the UNC, unlike the PNM, is not ideologically monolithic. The UNC has several intellectual wings rooted in various philosophies about how to govern; it is a dynamic association. This is a political strength but also an electoral weakness. In an elementary way, it is ULF, ONR, DLP and Tapia all in one. Our political base or core membership is also highly stratified.
All of this sounds like good academic theory for UWI, but should Mr Panday hold on after he lost by a landslide?
That is a simple question. ?You are anti-academic now, Ken? Anyway, to get to your point, Mr Panday has to reassess his political role and adjust to the new dispensation and a new role for himself. He should not be pushed into any position.
But how long can he take? Mr Panday is now saying the election, of which he was in charge, was fraudulent.
Well, we have gone only two weeks after the election. I agree that there are concerns about the process and the cards found. It is a matter the party has already raised and will address further in the coming days. I think the members and the national community must remember that we are still in a transition mode.
You seem to be at pains to say plainly that Mr Panday must go. He lost ten to one. Why the hesitancy?
It is not that simple; we need to have continuity and a united team even if he is no longer Opposition Leader. Summarily dismissing Mr Panday is a sure way to further fracture and divide the Opposition.
Why did you not walk out with Mr Panday last Wednesday when he said the party was undemocratic, after Harry Partap, of all people, asked him to exit the meeting?
As you know, I have never discussed the party business in the media and I don't intend to do that now.