Ali seen as frontrunner ahead of PPP vote today on presidential candidate

-Teixeira, Persaud expected to withdraw from race

Irfaan Ali

The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is today scheduled to decide who will be its presidential candidate for the next general elections and former minister Irfaan Ali is seen as the leading contender.

Sources told Stabroek News that the race will be among Ali, seen as the candidate who is closest to party General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo, and two other former ministers, Anil Nandlall and Dr Frank Anthony. The two other contenders, opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and Member of Parliament Vindhya Persaud, are expected to withdraw from the contest.

Ahead of a vote by secret ballot by the 35-member PPP Central Committee, sources say that in a three-way race, Ali, the former PPP/C Housing Minister, would emerge as the winner. In a two-way race, the contest should be tighter, with Nandlall, the former PPP/C Attorney General, seen as having the better chance as compared to Anthony, the former PPP/C Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport.

Voting will be held at the PPP/C’s Headquarters, Freedom House, on Robb Street, Georgetown. The Central Committee meeting is to begin at 10 am.

Jagdeo has said that he believes the party’s presidential candidate will gain the support of the majority of the Central Committee (CC).

“That person will get over 50 (per cent) of the votes of the Central Committee,” he had told Stabroek News.

With concerns raised that a single round of balloting could lead to the absurdity that the candidate is chosen by a small number of CC members, Jagdeo said that he believes the chosen person will get more than 17 votes.

Sources told this newspaper that the Central Committee is divided and with five candidates, there is worry that the winner would not get a majority of the votes.

Each of the candidates has said that if they were not chosen, they will work and support the eventual nominee.

Jagdeo has pledged also to work with the selected candidate throughout the campaign process. Further, he noted that when the five made presentations to the Central Committee last week, all stated that “they want me to play a role.”

“I am not taking no back seat until we win the elections, I am General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party. You’ll see me working hard every day in the interior and the coast, everywhere working harder than even now until we win the elections,” he said.

Asked about the role he played in overseeing the 2011 Donald Ramotar administration, Jagdeo said he had no formal role to play in Ramotar’s administration and that Ramotar was not his “puppet” as some people would have said.

“I said, this time around I will play a formal role and every candidate said, unsolicited, that they want me to be part of the government,” he added.

Once the presidential candidate is chosen, he said, the prime ministerial candidate will be chosen and that person will most likely come from civil society.

Asked about Ali’s academic qualifications being a subject of discussion, Jagdeo said what bothered him was that the timing of it. On the night before the presentations were to be made, the issue hit the public domain. 

“Therefore, I believe it is contrived. That matter would be dealt with. He issued a statement. He has released his certificates. He is awaiting his transcripts, which he will release. That will be fair game. The timing of it was critical. I wonder where it is coming from,” he said.

He had earlier said that while he has his personal favourite, he would not be publicly endorsing any candidate and would allow the party to select the candidate through an established process.

And while Jagdeo continues to deny it, many persons believe that Ali is his candidate of choice. It is why some party members believe that Ali will today emerge the winner of the elections.

Some observers would have also pointed out that Ali’s odds of winning is higher than the other candidates because he has dedicated supporters while Anthony’s and Nandall’s support comes from the same faction and would be split between them. “It is likely that Ali will come out as the person with the most votes because his camp has dedicated supporters and the remaining votes will be split between Anthony and Nandall. Remember there is no (second round); it is one voting process,” one source said.

“Ali has been working the ground and is liked by many persons, maybe because he is close to Jagdeo also. Others have not been as aggressively campaigning as he. Put aside this [academic credentials] scandal, this somewhat opportune scandal, and you would see that he is indeed capable of running the country. He is a smart guy and did excellent work at Housing and anyone wanting to be fair would remember that.  He can win on his own merit and not the strength of others,” another source added.

Ali was recently charged over the allocation of house lots to Cabinet members in the Pradoville 2 Housing Scheme during his tenure as Housing Minister. Nandlall is also fighting a charge over his alleged fraudulent conversion of law reports from the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

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