Trinidad and Tobago sets early election May 24

Fri Apr 16, 2010 2:56pm EDT

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* PM Patrick Manning's party accused of mismanaging money

* Manning calls election early to renew party's mandate

By Linda Hutchinson-Jafar

PORT OF SPAIN, April 16 (Reuters) - Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning set general elections for May 24 to seek a new mandate for his People's National Movement amid accusations of mismanaging public funds.

Manning's office announced the election date on Friday, a week after the prime minister dissolved Parliament midway through his administration's five-year term.

He faces a strong challenge from the current opposition party, the United National Congress (UNC), which has joined forces with the fringe opposition party, the Congress of the People (COP).

Whoever wins control of the 41-seat Parliament will form the next government in the southern Caribbean nation whose economy depends heavily on oil and gas production.

Manning, 64, has ruled Trinidad and Tobago for 13 of the past 17 years but has been under pressure over accusations of corruption and mismanaging public money.

He was widely criticized for spending millions of dollars to host of the Summit of the Americas and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings last year, events that critics said had produced no tangible benefits for the country.

Manning vigorously defended his policies and boasted that he had created opportunities for free tertiary education and jobs for young people. He said he had been unfairly vilified.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar of the UNC has already begun a campaign that she said would focus on reducing crime and promoting equality and good governance. She said her administration would not waste public funds on buildings and summits that do not benefit the population.

"Gone will be the days of this high-handed arrogant style of government," the former attorney general told supporters at a rally earlier this week.

The Elections and Boundaries Commission that oversees elections said 1.04 million people in the country of 1.3 million were eligible to vote. That was up from 990,467 during the 2007 election, when Manning easily won re-election. (Editing by Jane Sutton and Eric Beech)

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