Unity essential – but no guarantees

By Raffique Shah
April 18, 2010

UNCI DON’T know if the two main opposition parties in Trinidad, Tobago’s TOP, and the trade unions and NGOs, will forge an alliance that is attractive to the electorate. As I write this column, top officials from the United National Congress (UNC) and the Congress of the People (COP) have held several meetings.

Spokespersons for the unity drive expressed confidence they will arrive at an agreement, but I am unimpressed by the tone of their pronouncements.

Diehard UNC supporters believe their party does not need the COP or any other entity to defeat the People’s National Movement (PNM). They seem convinced that because Kamla Persad-Bissessar trounced Basdeo Panday in the internal party elections, she will likewise overwhelm the PNM. And in the COP there are some who believe that having won substantial votes in 2007 the party can do better this time around.

The PNM may be down, but only the foolish would count it out. Even though the party failed to curb the excesses of the government, one must never underestimate the ‘elections machine’ that the late Dr Williams built. Mr Manning has put his party at severe risk in what I consider uncalled-for elections. But in its darkest hour the PNM has the capacity to retain a substantial number of votes.

In 1986, the PNM was almost wiped off the political map, suffering a 33-3 defeat at the hands of a barely-united NAR. Still, it polled 183,635 votes (32 per cent of votes cast) to the NAR’s 380,000. In 1995, when the UNC formed the government for the first time, it did so with fewer votes than the PNM (189,000 to the PNM’s 232,000). By 2000, when the UNC was at its zenith, a mere 45,000 votes separated the two parties.

Only a fool would take it for granted that, based on the Government’s unpopularity, the UNC by itself is guaranteed a resounding victory over the PNM. And any ‘accommodation’ that looks shaky from the start would have a tough time convincing an already sceptical electorate to vote for it.

At this early stage of the campaign, both parties have drawn large crowds at their meetings, with the UNC probably having the edge in terms of numbers. But that is no indication of an impending defeat for the PNM. It is also why the UNC needs other elements that are united in their rejection of PNM governance, and not the other way round.

The notion that ‘we have 15 seats, they have none’ means nothing when they face the PNM juggernaut. Unless the UNC is prepared to give a little to gain more, to sacrifice some of its seats in order to become attractive outside its base, it may well end up snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. More than that, some of those seeking nomination on the opposition slate could well prove to be millstones that will be rejected by those who will determine which party wins the elections-people who put country first, who have no party allegiances.

It is a fact that PNM campaign leaders are worried as they have not been for years. Their leader did not consult with them before taking the plunge. Or if he did, it was to speak with party hacks who would have told him what he wanted to hear: Boss, you will lick them up any time! The real foot soldiers would have told him otherwise, had he bothered to consult with them. But it’s his call, he would insist. And if it comes to pass, it would be his fall-and theirs.

The opposition will also need to make commitments on fundamental issues that affect citizens, offer workable solutions to seemingly intractable problems the PNM failed to solve. It is one thing to say, ‘Crime was lower when we were in government.’ It’s stupid to suggest, ‘Elect us and we’ll bring crime under control in short order.’

We are looking at two different eras. What worked in 1998 would hardly apply today. There are many more criminals now who are better-armed and more determined to wreak havoc on the populace. It is also naive to suggest that ‘giving the police the resources they need’ is a solution to high crime.

While the police are hampered by archaic systems-dilapidated stations, ledgers instead of computers, obsolete communications equipment-successive governments have equipped them with new fleets of vehicles. But when crimes are reported, they invariably complain they don’t have vehicles to dispatch officers to investigate.

How will a new government deal with illegal arms and narcotics secreted in police stations? Or crime exhibits like cocaine and money disappearing from others? Clearly, rogue elements in uniforms are part of the problem. Unless a new government can first clean up the Service, platform promises to reduce crime will remain hollow.

Ms Bissessar may also want to consider installing 2,000 properly networked computers in police stations instead of distributing 20,000 taxpayer-funded computers to children to be used as play stations. During the UNC’s term in office, it was Kamla, as Education Minister, who introduced secondary school places for all who sat the SEA examination. That misguided concept, which the PNM endorsed and extended to tertiary education, has led to shameful standards among ‘graduates’ who are worse off than primary school non-graduates of yesteryear.

5 thoughts on “Unity essential – but no guarantees”

  1. There you go again Uncle Shah , putting all the blame of our country’s crime woes at the feet of overwhelmed police. Was it the police that allowed un-inspected containers to come into the country allegedly ladened with dangerous weapons ,to be eventually used by phony Islamist Abu Bakr, in his 1990 anti democratic attempted Coup attacks on our nation?
    When are we going to also make a major call on our greedy , corrupt business community to stop using their enterprise to serve as a cover for drugs and weapon cartel quick profit overtures, and instead emulate good practice of responsible , social entrepreneurship ?
    As for the political realities , I am always amuse when I read the selective lamentations of pro British system advocates on this board. They love the Privy Council because of the occasional favorable rulings , but hate pro Westminster Parliamentary pomp, pageantry and civilize behavioral protocols ,and the Queen, when convenient.
    They yearn for proportional representation, and think Manning was ‘duncy’ for calling early election which is his right as PM to gain whatever advantage he deem fit. They thought Robbie and now Manning are undemocratic characters for selecting senators to fill cabinet post over elected officials , which is their rights as ‘first amongst equal’ winners.
    They admire Chavez Venezuelan new empire , adore China and Cuban experiments , but want’s none of it in their land. Most importantly , they admire every industrial country for their patriotism , and socially responsible pro citizen leaders,but are contented to hang on to culturally driven racial insularity , selfishness ,and greed at the expense of the other , yet claims to want to build a nation, how stupid indeed?
    Here is a suggestion that is sure to agitate the pro Kamela , woman at all cost coronation advocates.
    Stop acting like PNM manipulated puppets , by trying to rush into forming hasty alliances that we are certain won’t hold five months after the general election. Instead , let each fraction run on it’s own strength/ merits, and hope that they are broad base enough to make inroads into PNM base so as to win a majority of seats this time around , as opposed to solely take votes away from each other. They should then let the party with the most seats be the one to form a government via a coalition , just like they do in another admired nation, Israel.
    Let the political games begin , but the words of an old, one time A’Level ,Tranquility Pol Sci teacher I once had, is still reverberating in my ear from many moons ago when I too was a short pants ,neglected cop in my land . It states as follows:- “If you always do, what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get, what you’ve always got.”
    I wish them well!

  2. Mr. Shah has failed to mention that NJAC and the Trade Unions are now standing solidly behind the coalition and are likely to be featured on the COP side. Although together they don’t constitute much in terms of voters, NJAC are perennial deposit losers and the trade union membership are already affiliated with parties, symbolically they mean so much. Look out for strong challenges to the PNM in Laventlle and Point Fortin in particular that the UNC along cannot provide. The UNC cannot say no to this one cause it literally means the whole country is moving and likely to overhaul the numbers of 1986. If the coalition doesnot agree it means back to Indo/Afro politics and Patrick Manning single handedly has ensured that there is no need for that this time.

  3. It is up to us to improve the country. The political leaders must be reminded that they are temporary. If they do not hear, they will feel.


    It’s time that we stand up. If leaders are unwilling to best represent us and secure our families, communities, businesses, etc… then they must go. I support whoever is going to do the best job with the humility that is befitting a proper leader.
    The foolishness about divisive issues has to stop. We must pull together for the future of the country.

  4. Looking from afar and not entirely conversant with T&T politics, I am puzzled by the COP’s decision to submerge itself into the UNC and not fight the election on its own merit. Did they not do quite well in the last election, although not winning any seats? Were they not the alternative, progressive, bi-racial party attracting returning nationals to its fold? Were they not the party brimming with ideas, many developed from exposure to the ‘developed’ world. What happened? And what exactly does this union of UNC/COP mean: no more COP?

  5. Time and time again we see that politics is nothing but an art in Machiavellistic principle and which also bring truth to the old adage:politics make strange bedfellows.How then could you explain the so-called unity of COP and the UNC. Mr Dookeran is the biggest political fraud ever to unleashed on the people of T$T. The man sell-out him soul, integrity, and credibility for 30pcs of silver just because they want to get rid of Manning at all cost even if it means sleeping with the devil.What does he hope to really accomplish to be appointed Mr President. I said he should have gone it alone, that what it means to be a leader with purpose and steadfast.The COP was new and had credibility and didnot suffer from the same political baggage like the PNM and the UNC. Mr Dookran choose to take the path of least resistance and destroyed the COP in the process.

    As the author suggest that if they think this unity going to provide another 1986 victory…they need to think again. As Machiavelli rightly says politics has no relationship with morals.

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