By Raffique Shah
Sunday, July 12th 2009
EVEN as this column appears in print today, there is a “unity rally” being held at Skinner Park in San Fernando. Its promoters have invited people of every political persuasion, even those who do not belong to any party, to attend. The rally, they say, is intended to send a strong message to the Patrick Manning Government that people are fed up with its high-handed form of governance.
It also seeks to demonstrate that the majority of the population, PNM supporters among them, are poised to kick the ruling party out of power if general elections were called tomorrow.
I don’t think there is much debate among political observers and analysts that the ruling party is currently at its nadir in terms of popular support. Mr Manning, like most self-deluded politicians, believes otherwise. The recent PNM family day held in Tacarigua saw a few thousand people dressed in party T-shirts having a whale of a time.
That many, if not most, of them were “bussed” to the fete did not matter. Some may have even been coerced into attending. When the shady characters who control URP order their serfs to do something, and I mean anything, legal or illegal, the latter would be very brave or very stupid to disobey unlawful commands.
Mr Manning would argue correctly that all political parties operate on a rent-a-crowd basis nowadays. Except for devotees to the respective leaders who would lend support without any quid pro quo (well, mostly), those on the periphery demand incentives-the ubiquitous “jersey”, air-conditioned buses to transport them to and fro, food, drinks and most of all entertainment, not from the leaders, many of whom are great comedy acts, but by costly DJs. The sad aspect of this decline in political ethics is that it is encouraged by parties who want to “look good” at every meeting, whether it’s a cottage meeting or huge central rally.
So I have no doubt that the PNM has lost ground, even among its core supporters, because of its failure to attend to their basic needs, embracing instead prestige projects that have no impact on the quality of lives of the masses.
Only last week a main road in Mr Manning’s constituency collapsed while a contractor worked on it, cutting off San Fernando from Princes Town, except via circuitous routes. While Colm Imbert dreams of super-highways, autobahns and rapid rail, too many roads that service ordinary citizens are falling apart.
There is no maintenance programme in place, not for roads, not for buildings like the Hall of Justice, and not for the new multi-storied structures now being built.
Having outlined every reason why the PNM should be booted out of power, I return to the central question: how can the proponents of unity achieve this? The opposition parties believe if they all come together, if they field one slate of candidates against the ruling party, they would demolish the PNM at the polls.
That is another pipe dream. It is common knowledge, and there is an abundance of empirical evidence to support this, that once Mr Basdeo Panday is involved in any such move, it is doomed to fail. Panday piously preaches unity on every platform he mounts. But in the very next breath he spits venom at his opponents. So those who genuinely believe unity is the road to removal of the PNM from power must also know once they achieve their goal, the cobra in Mr Panday comes to the fore, paralysing or destroying his new enemies, the very people who helped him remove the PNM.
In short order, unity is transformed into disunity, maybe utter chaos, leaving those who worked hard to remove what they thought was their common enemy to stand in their shoes and wonder. “Where did we go wrong?” they would ask. I would respond, “From the beginning!”
You do not build a sustainable alternative on the sole ground of hatred for a ruling party. The reason the PNM has remained in power for so long, for Mr Manning to return from a 33-3 licking and regain power in five years, is because the PNM has a strong foundation and defined policies and programmes, however flawed the latter may be. It is why the party can spurn alliances, even when it’s down and out.
Those who want to remove the party from power must disabuse their minds of unity initiatives. They must be prepared to build credible alternatives to the PNM. That takes time. It calls for “hardwuk”, as Lloyd Best used to say. In order to win over the majority of voters, the new party must present policies and programmes with goals that are attainable, yet different to anything we have had over the past 50 years.
Promises that are hollow will fool no one. People need to be convinced that the new party can give them good governance with built-in checks and balances that make them part of the decision making.
They want to chart their own future, have inputs in major decisions that would impact on their lives. The day of the maximum leader is over. The dawn of a new era, a new leader, one who makes people count as people (you know what I mean!), has arrived.
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