Locked in an electoral tie, the prime minister and the opposition leader of Trinidad and Tobago scrapped plans for a coalition government and said Saturday that the president must pick the Caribbean country's new leader.

Prime Minister Basdeo Panday's United National Congress and Patrick Manning's opposition People's National Movement each won 18 seats in the 36-seat Parliament in the Dec. 10 elections.

After saying they would hash out a coalition government, they announced in separate news conferences Saturday that they had agreed to let President Arthur Robinson choose which party will govern. The president's post is largely ceremonial in Trinidad.

Though "there were many things that both sides wanted but did not get, the agreement allows us to break the deadlock and move forward," Panday said.

"I am not aware of coalition governments working anywhere," said Manning, a former prime minister.

Robinson, a longtime Panday rival, has not said when he will make a decision, spokesman Arnold Corneal said. Robinson was expected to wait for recounts in two districts to be completed early next week.

The election has sharpened tensions between descendants of African slaves and descendants of East Indian indentured laborers who almost evenly split the country's population of 1.3 million.

Manning's party is supported mainly by Afro-Trinidadians, and Panday's is largely backed by Trinidadians of East Indian descent.

Panday became the oil-rich country's first East Indian leader when he won in 1995. His party won elections in 2000, but he called elections four years early when a party split threatened to dissolve his thin Parliament majority.

Both party leaders agreed fresh elections must be called, but have not determined when.

Also, as part of the agreement, the party that takes power is to investigate allegations of corruption involving several government contracts under the Panday administration. Panday has said he was working to clean up graft.