By Raffique Shah
May 09, 2015
From early o’clock, meaning in 1973 when he was parachuted into leadership of the sugar workers union by the PNM (yes, you read right…check your history) to take up from where the other puppet, Bhadase Maharaj, had died leaving a vacuum, I recognised Panday for what he was—an opportunist posing as a pragmatist.
That said, I also recognised his gift-of-the-gab, his theatrical performances on political platforms that were among the best this country has ever seen. His wit would rise to legendary proportions, and over the past decade or so, as his fortunes faded, he seemed to have developed keen analytical powers as he weighed in on developments in his party and on the wider political landscape.
Last week, when Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her MPs decided to eject Opposition Leader Keith Rowley from the House of Representatives, Panday said it was a “stupid strategy”.
“Whoever thought of this strategy should be fired,” he added. He argued that the motion of censure would win Rowley “sympathy votes”.
“This act would make the floating voters terrified of this Government…”
Even more telling, he warned, “What happened here is that the Government has used its majority to expel a person from Parliament as if the Standing Orders and the Constitution give them the right to expel every member of the Opposition and run a Government without an Opposition,”
These are two very pertinent points. The prospect of Rowley winning “sympathy votes” is real. Listening to and reading comments on the issue, one senses that people who hitherto might have had nothing to do with the suspended Leader of the Opposition, suddenly find themselves in his corner.
Worse, the Government had no right, maybe not even the authority, to take the action it did even as the issue in question, “emailgate”, is the subject of official investigations by the Police and the Integrity Commission. Parliament may be euphemistically dubbed “the highest court in the country”, but it is not a law unto itself.
By pursuing the course of action it did, the Government has reduced Parliament to a “kangaroo court”.
For argument’s sake, what if tomorrow the Police investigators declare that they have found some validity in Rowley’s claim that the e-mails point to criminal actions by some of the persons named in them?
Further, what if they conclude that they are half-baked, but that there was no malice intended or crime committed?
Also very relevant to the issue is an important parallel raised by my columnist colleague Sheila Rampersad in yesterday’s Express. She reminded readers that in Parliament in April 2005, then opposition MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar read into Hansard a damning letter written by PNM Councillor Dhansam Dansook, in which he accused two PNM ministers, Eric Williams and Franklin Khan, of demanding and receiving bribes from him, and of threatening to murder him.
Kamla’s “lettergate” proved to be a dud as both ministers, who had resigned based on her reading the letters into Hansard, were exonerated by the courts, and Dansook later recanted the allegations. Kamla was never prosecuted or persecuted for reading a false declaration into the records, nor was she suspended from the House.
Now that she has a clear majority in Parliament, she is abusing it in a way none of her predecessors did. Oh, Dr Eric Williams used his two-thirds majority to enact some dubious legislation (voting machines, the ISA and IRA), and he strutted around like an emperor, looking down on lesser mortals. When won absolute power in 1971 in the face of an opposition boycott of the general election, he introduced the Republican Constitution (1976).
Since then, though, I do not recall any other Prime Minister using his supremacy to railroad questionable legislation the way Kamla altered the laws governing elections (the run-offs and some proportional representation in local elections). Patrick Manning moved “dread” when he tried to fire Speaker Occah Seepaul, but he paid the electoral price for his folly.
Panday is correct when he says that Kamla’s virtual expulsion of Rowley from the House has driven fear into many people, most of all the educated and well-informed “floating voters”. Oh, her core supporters will cheer the Queen even if she delivers Roodal Moonilal’s head on a platter on Monday night (only he does not know it), alongside Rowley’s.
In fact, besides delivering the “sympathy vote”, she has gifted Rowley an important element in the run-up to the election—time to campaign. He no longer has an obligation to attend sessions of a lame duck Parliament, and with his colleagues’ boycott-support, they can campaign every day, every night.
Not that this guarantees Rowley and the PNM anything, as Britain’s Labour Party leader Ed Miliband learned the hard way last Thursday. By similar token, though, Kamla cannot take comfort in the Conservative’s surprise victory. She may well find that Cameron’s luck is not Kamla’s luck.
Or that vengeance is a dish, served cold or hot, might stick in your throat and strangle you!