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No party can go it alone

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

After a couple weeks of attending to more immediate issues, the column returns to the early assessment of how the parties stand as the momentum builds towards the date with the electorate. Done in two parts weeks ago, the assessment of the People’s Partnership government concluded that the coalition no longer exists and is not even a shadow of the electoral and political force it was in 2010. 

What is left is the United National Congress, a Congress of the People that has lost all credibility and capacity—it failed to institute Winston Dookeran’s “new politics” into the coalition, while the labour element (the Movement for Social Justice) left, the Tobago Organisation of the People was dismantled at the THA elections having failed to win one seat, and the National Joint Action Committee, which lent some measure of assurance to certain groups of blacks that they would not be run-over by the major Indo-based parties, has been of no political significance in the coalition.  

As analysed, the PP has squandered the considerable political currency gained in the May 2010 polls in “riotous living,” to use a Biblical analogy. With regard to the opposition People’s National Movement, the party has regained something of its balance and is giving hope that it can claw its way out of the hole into which it was flung by Patrick Manning’s hubris, his firm belief of being anointed, his wild spending and wastage all designed to crown himself emperor—as Napoleon did. 

To diverge briefly, something needs to be said about the political sheep who follow their leaders, deathly afraid to say to him and her: “Boy/girl, yuh playing the Jack.” What that kind of blind followship says about the party is that it is not an organisation of substance, but a gathering without real structure, form, strong institutions, a constitution which distributes judiciously the power and authority within the party to prevent the Mannings of the world from arising (CLR James, Party Politics in the West Indies.)

While the PNM is attempting to revitalise itself from the phenomenon of the dominant leader, ironically, the UNC is desperately seeking to fashion Queen Kamla and recreate the Kamlamania of 2010, notwithstanding that she has led the Government into so many errors and has a poor campaigning record, having lost four elections in one year, campaigns which she led from in front.

The immediate internal challenge for the PNM is to be able to convincingly bury the ghost of Patrick Manning without harm coming to the party. Winford James said it correctly when he called on the San Fernando East constituency, and I would say the PNM’s leadership, to put Patrick Manning out of his political suffering.

If the party cannot achieve that efficiently and effectively then it would be difficult to see how the PNM can consider itself a serious contender for political office. To be able to thank Manning for his effort and move one would be to demonstrate to the electorate that it can take difficult decisions in the best interest of the wider community. If the party gets stuck with the political carcass of Patrick Manning then it will deserve to be ignored by the electorate and with good reason.

But the greatest challenge facing the PNM, and one shared by the UNC, is to convert itself into a truly national party representative of all the ethnic, social classes, political persuasions and aspirations in the polity. The demographics and the early polls are all indicating that neither of the two major political and ethnic tribes, the UNC representative of Indo-Trinidad and the PNM, which has its roots amongst the Afro population, can win an election on its own. 

That requires that the parties, in this analysis the PNM, be able to demonstrate to those outside of its clan that it is a party which can accommodate, perhaps in time even fit organically into its structure other ethnic and social classes, rather than remain a party for the black social under class and portions of the black and brown middle class and of the Syrian investor class. 

There is some evidence that the PNM understands what is required. The early selection of candidates, who are not typically PNM, gives some indication of that understanding. However, it is one thing to select a Stuart Young (Trini Chinese) and Al-Rawi (perceived as Indo-Trini) to contest for the respective seats in north and south Trinidad (that can be conceived as window dressing) it is a very different challenge to convert the party of Dr Williams into one that Indos, French-Creole, Chinese and the multiplicity of douglas and Travesaou feel comfortable in.

The PNM must make apparent that it can be a security blanket into which those who took a chance with the People’s Partnership coalition in 2010 can now find shelter. The party will not win by default; it will not be sufficient to say that the UNC has a poor governance record, is corrupt and racist, it will have to show that it has a set of workable policies and quality leadership.

To be continued.


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