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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 16:11 GMT
Trinidad's fate in president's hands
Patrick Manning, opposition leader, his finger stained by ink after voting
Mr Manning is looking to get his old job back
The general election in Trinidad and Tobago has yielded an unprecedented tie, with the governing party and main opposition winning 18 seats each.

There is confusion as to who will now govern this two-island Caribbean nation of 1.3 million, but incumbent Prime Minister Basdeo Panday is already calling on President Arthur Robinson to return him to office.

My understanding of the Constitution is when there is a tie, the president must call on the incumbent prime minister to form a government

Basdeo Panday
incumbent prime minister

Opposition leader Patrick Manning, himself a former prime minister, has also called on the head of state to decide.

The parties' supporters have traditionally split down ethnic African and Indian lines and whichever party takes power will be stymied in its actions unless it can persuade opposition politicians to defect.

Right to govern

Of the 850,000 voters in this oil-rich nation, those of Indian descent usually back Mr Panday's United National Congress (UNC) while ethnic Africans have largely favoured the opposition People's National Movement (PNM).

Both groups comprise roughly 40% of the population.

The UNC won a two-seat majority in December 2000 but Mr Panday called new elections in October after three of his ministers left the government, complaining of corruption within the party.

Prime Minister Basdeo Panday
Mr Panday has been out celebrating
The 68-old prime minister, who conceded last week that the election had been the "most difficult battle" of his political life, said on Monday night that the party in office had the right to continue to govern in the event of a tie.

"My understanding of the constitution is when there is a tie, the president must call on the incumbent prime minister to form a government," he told a rally of flag-waving supporters at the UNC election headquarters in Couva, 29km south of Port-of-Spain.

The leader of the opposition said merely that the decision on the new government rested with President Robinson - known as a long-time rival of Mr Panday.

Mr Manning told his own exuberant supporters in Port-of-Spain that the winner should be "the leader of the party that is most likely to command a majority".

Corruption allegations

Mr Manning's PNM had campaigned on a platform of social reform and promises to end corruption.

Corruption allegations have plagued the government of Mr Panday, who became the country's first prime minister of Indian descent in 1995.

During the election campaign, newspaper reports appeared almost daily which suggested that the government had been awarding public works contracts - such as the new international airport that cost $400m - in exchange for backhanders.

The allegations have been consistently denied by the UNC.

Monday's vote, which saw a high turnout, comes against a backdrop of tighter economic conditions because of the plummeting oil price, which provides two-thirds of the nation's export revenue.

Unemployment in one of the wealthiest Caribbean nations is still high and poverty widespread.

The election is the ninth since Trinidad gained independence from Britain in 1962.

The BBC's Nick Miles
"Whichever government is in power at the time has favoured its own kind"
See also:

24 Jan 01 | Americas
Trinidad PM warns of 'coup plot'
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Trinidad and Tobago
31 Jul 01 | Americas
Timeline: Trinidad and Tobago
09 Dec 01 | Americas
Trinidad's voters reassess loyalties
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