By Alexander Dworkowitz
A leading member of Trinidad and Tobago’s parliament addressed a Richmond Hill crowd Saturday afternoon to protest the president’s choice for prime minister in his Caribbean nation.
Ganga Singh, the chief whip of his United National Congress Party in Trinidad’s parliament, spoke in the so-called Rupnarain Lot on Liberty Avenue off 132nd Street in front of a crowd of about 100 people. The event was organized by his own party and three Queens- based groups.
The politics of Trinidad and Tobago, a republic of 1.3 million people off South America, are divided along racial lines.
Slightly less than half the nation are descendants of African ancestors who came to the island as slaves. A similar size population is of Indian descent. Their ancestors arrived as indentured servants under British rule after slavery was abolished.
Nearly all of the United National Congress supporters are of Indian descent, while most supporters of the rival People’s National Movement are of African descent.
Singh’s appearance in Richmond Hill was part of his party’s campaign to drum up international support for its challenge to the election in a nation where voters often chose candidates based on race.
“It is a way of bringing international public pressure,” Singh said. “It demonstrates there is an international arm of the party.”
Singh came to call for a new election for Trinidad and Tobago, which is in a political deadlock.
In December, the population of Trinidad and Tobago voted for the 36 seats of their parliament. The election resulted in an 18-18 tie between the UNC and the People’s National Movement .
Without a majority, neither party could claim the right to have its candidate for prime minister take power.
Then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday of the UNC called for President Arthur Robinson of the PNM to return him to office, while former Prime Minister Patrick Manning of the PNM also asked Robinson to appoint him prime minister.
Robinson appointed Manning, the candidate from his own party who is black.
Since Robinson’s decision, Trinidad and Tobago’s parliament has not met.
Speakers at the rally said the recent election emphasized the racial divide in the nation.
“[Robinson] separated us,” said Jay Rakhar, a Richmond Hill community activist. “He put blacks on one side and Indians on the other side.”
The crowd in Richmond Hill reflected the divide, with nearly all the attendees made up of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago who trace their ancestry back to India.
Frankie Ramadar, general secretary of the East Indian Diaspora, a community organization that works to get Caribbean East Indian immigrants involved in city politics, also spoke of the president’s decision, which was made in late December.
“Quite a few people in Trinidad and Tobago lost their appetite on Christmas,” he said. “We believe that Robinson’s decision was morally wrong.”
The event was organized by the East Indian Diaspora, the Association for All Trinidadians & Tobagonians, the Indo Caribbean Federation of New York and the New York State wing of the UNC.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.