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COP needs to settle in for the long haul

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Anyone remembers the 1959 television serial The Twilight Zone? Shot in black and white, and with its iconic opening theme music, its episodes usually ended with an unexpected twist. It’s a formula that’s been often replicated but seldom comes close to the original. That’s unless of course you’re talking about Trinidad and Tobago…whose recent political spectacles make it seem like a place where one should come to expect the unexpected.

After reading that introduction you might think that I’m about to launch into a scathing tirade aimed at the government. But I’m not. Nothing they do surprises me any more.

As far as I’m concerned, neither this PNM administration nor the opposition UNC, have any real interest in improving our country. If the Roman Emperor Nero infamously played music while Rome burned around him, then our parliament is a veritable orchestra. Who then will save us from this status quo of poor leadership?

The answer, according to Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, is the Congress of the People (COP). Despite being all but defunct, the political leader would have us believe that the party will be ready to contest the next election. And in all 41 constituencies!

This bizarre claim was made in an interview that was published by the T&T Guardian on April 23. She did admit that there were challenges that needed to be overcome, specifically the membership’s disappointment with the party’s past performance.

But in the same breath, she also projected an air of optimism, believing that those same disenchanted members would eventually return to the fold.

Readers probably dismissed her rhetoric, thinking that she needs to accept the reality that the COP is no longer politically relevant. But you have to give her credit for wanting to carry on the fight.

The source of her perseverance could be the fact that time is on the party’s side; the assumption being that the public’s ever-increasing discontent with both the PNM and UNC will result in a groundswell of support by the time 2020 rolls around.

Between now and then, the task that falls to her and the executive committee will be to repackage the notion that the COP remains a viable “third party.” But even with two years to go, it’s going to be an extremely hard sell.

The party’s previous leaders sacrificed part of its credibility when they threw their lot in with the People’s Partnership. Only to waste the rest when they didn’t part ways at the first sign that something was amiss.

Past mistakes aside, the uphill battle can be mitigated if the current leadership keeps one thing in mind—the party cannot win the next election. Tribal allegiance makes securing enough seats to form the next government damn near impossible.

It would be a waste of resources to run a campaign attempting to win the unwinnable.

Instead, the party needs to focus on certain constituencies—the marginal and disgruntled ones—where its message would more be receptive.

That strategy, even if it results in a single seat, gives the COP what it desperately needs for political survival: a presence in the parliament. Once there, it can be a voice of reason; not just to oppose for opposing sake, but to constructively criticise bad legislation and craft it into something better.

This will establish a reputation for putting country first, thus restoring its credibility.

I am aware that this suggestion comes as an unexpected twist. But let’s not forget the 2007 election when, at the height of its popularity, the Congress of the People got a lot of votes but no seats.

Like many of its supporters, I too had high hopes in the philosophy of “New Politics,” believing it to be the only thing that can break our country’s habit of voting for race over reason.

However, it’s painfully clear that such a change cannot happen overnight.

The COP needs to settle in for the long haul if it’s to have any chance of influencing our political culture.

Then again, anything can happen in the next two years… in this Twilight Zone called Trinidad and Tobago.

Ryan Hadeed


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