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Uncommitted 26% will make the difference

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The question of how the performance of the leader and leadership of the People’s National Movement is likely to impact on voter behaviours is one left over from last week’s column. It is one of those questions that is likely to have its greatest resonance amongst voters not consumed by party and tribal allegiance.

However, as it is becoming clearer from the early polls and the voting patterns over the last couple elections, it is the 26 per cent of the uncommitted electorate that will make the difference after each of the tribal parties, the United National Congress and the People’s National Movement, wins its home bases.

Last time around, it was this non-tribal voter that gave electoral support to the coalition. Many of those voters placed their faith in the likes of the Congress of the People, the Tobago Organisation of the People and the labour movement in the Movement for Social Justice and the National Joint Action Committee to attenuate the natural tendencies of the UNC to its tribe. They were the ones, especially up and down the East-West Corridor, who secured victory for the PP in non-traditional UNC constituencies.  

Question is: is the majority of such voters, and in the relevant constituencies, likely to vote for the PNM to save them from another five years of a UNC-dominated amalgam, and this notwithstanding whatever shortcomings they may perceive PNM leader, Dr Keith Rowley and the senior leadership of the party may have?

Is the PNM leader/ship to be a saving grace from the other major leader in the election, Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her sub-leaders in the same manner that the PP coalition provided something of a safety net from a PNM leadership in the person of Patrick Manning who had become drunk with his own self-importance?

Frankly I do not think it is a question which can be definitively answered at this distance from the election and in isolation from the heated and dynamic atmosphere of the campaign. But it is going to become a critical issue upon which the uncommitted will ponder; much will undoubtedly have to do with the political and now economic environment that will exist then and the display of good or bad leadership.

In terms of possibilities, the non-tribal voter could perceive of Rowley and his leadership as being a superior choice to Persad-Bissessar. A prime minister and her cabinet faced with making decisions, developing policies and implementing them over the last five years will naturally attract more attention and stricter scrutiny than an opposition leader and his team.

However, amongst the non-committed will be those who would positively assess the achievements of the prime minister and her cabinet. There is much ground to be covered by the leaders, much decision-making by the non-committed and then there will be the task of determining the likely impact of the voters in the constituencies that matter.

The two parties will initiate concentrated attacks on the respective leaders and much image-making has already begun: the UNC trying to recreate Kamlamania 2010; and the PNM continuing to re-make Rowley, burnishing what are perceived to be his rough edges. What of the Congress of the People and the other smaller parties, how are they lining up at this distance from the election?

This column has consistently expressed the obvious: the People’s Partnership no longer exists in the manner that it presented itself to the electorate in 2010. The coalition is badly fractured notwithstanding the delusion of its leaders “that the party is stronger than ever today”—politicians have an immense capacity for deluding themselves.

The Tobago Organisation of the People was shattered after the 12-0 decimation by the PNM in the THA elections; there is today a confused scramble to gather up the pieces. The labour party, the Movement for Social Justice is the only unit which sought to remain consistent with the pledges of the coalition’s campaign. It left the coalition two years after. 

As all labour parties have experienced over the last 75 years, the electorate makes a distinction between trade union and political representation. The party will be hard pressed to gather mass support and will probably seek to achieve some form of influence on the side, perhaps engaging a campaign for one or the other parties in a run-off poll.  

If the National Joint Action Committee had some residual influence in 2010 as giving assurance to segments of the black social underclass to look after its interest in government, its non-performance cancelled such potential.

 The COP has lost all rights to being considered as the party that would bring “new politics” to the body politic. It stood for nothing; it was kicked about like a rag doll by the UNC government; it failed to bring the UNC to the discussion table to create a structured coalition force.

At times, the party’s leadership has been in conflict, even today as the party seeks to make itself electorally ready founders Winston Dookeran and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan are being eased out of the election line-up while leader Prakash Ramadhar snuggles up closer to the UNC.

• To be continued


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