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Change within and outside UNC, PNM needed

Sunday, March 25, 2018

It is unrealistic to think that the tribal and fanatical supporters of the United National Congress and the People’s National Movement will allow their parties and tribes to be denied office—in government and/or in opposition.

Attempts to establish a government without the core of those parties have failed.

What is more feasible is to persuade groups of progressive thinking supporters of the PNM and the UNC to revolutionize their parties from within. It should be an overture to have the groups understand and accept that their parties (with an emphasis on the leaders/oligarchies of the parties) have failed to achieve what we agree, in a generalised way, to be best for the country.

In the circumstances, the need is to have elements of the UNC and PNM create parties with a nationalistic outlook as opposed to parties, governments, and opposition forces focused on their tribal navel strings and the “vaulting ambition” of their leaders.

A spark has to be ignited inside the two legacy parties to create and propose an agenda for change. Large sections of the PNM and the UNC must be made sufficiently conscious of the political cul-de-sac in which their parties and the political culture are trapped.

One major objective would be to develop an internal political culture which transports the rank and file to the centre stage and with a voice. Party members must be convinced that the era of a voiceless fellowship that worships an all-knowing leader and his/her hangers-on no longer has currency.

Independent voices and leadership in the rest of the polity and society are critical to this process of political conscientiousness. Those who are convinced of the need for transformation cannot sit on the sidelines, complain, and wait for others to stimulate change.

Institutional change is a basic requirement. Over the last ten to 15 years, the inadequacy of many of our most important post-Independence institutions has been evident: the Parliament, the Judiciary, the police service, the office of the presidency; the education system; even the religious institutions have shown themselves to be too earthbound.

The reality has been that when one of the tribes wins the power, it overwhelmingly installs its own members across the Government and the operations of the State. This has resulted in the underutilisation of already limited human resources and a locking out of the support base of the other tribal party and the rest of the society, not part of either of the parties.

Why is the above necessary; because it is unrealistic to expect that portion of the society which is neither PNM nor UNC to be sufficiently strong and persuasive to deny office to the two tribal parties and their support bases.

Moreover, the political and party landscape of the present is much like it was in the 1970s and 1980s when the PNM had a stranglehold on government, and the predecessor parties of the UNC remained hopelessly in opposition: “Who we go put,” if not the UNC or the PNM?

For sure the constitutional arrangements adopted at political independence need a full reassessment and reformulation. But the history of the two major political parties has shown that neither of the parties is interested in fundamental reform of the constitutional arrangements.

The leaders of the parties understand how to achieve their narrow objectives within the confines of the existing provisions of the Republican Constitution, and so are not interested in having them reformulated.

When the Wooding Commission delivered its research findings which advocated change, PM Eric Williams said the proposals were like a “dagger aimed at the heart of the PNM.”

The last UNC government at the end of its five-year term threatened constitutional change that would have given the party an electoral advantage.

Factional shifts in leadership within the PNM and UNC have occurred, but the old political culture remains deeply rooted and resistant.


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