Conceived as an instrument of change, the People’s Partnership Government completes 40 months of an expected 60-month term. Up to now the morning sickness has not stopped. The discomfort of leadership is creating a fifth Cabinet reshuffle, or realignment, to use the preferred word. The cravings of power are not unsurprising, but more conspicuous. With 20 months remaining, and going into pregnancy’s equivalent of the third trimester, the question is what should we expect when we are still expecting.
Over its first 40 months, the dizziness of government exposed a fundamental weakness of the Partnership. The coalition has lacked focus because of its strategy of campaigning against a People’s National Movement (PNM) return to power, instead of delivering on its promise of better government. Having capitalised on the public’s unhappiness with the PNM’s leadership, the Partnership did not grasp the low-hanging fruit. It has instead spent more time discouraging political support for the PNM than encouraging support for itself.
Two months after its May 2010 general election victory, the Partnership took its “anything but the PNM” approach into local government elections, and won convincingly. The coalition’s 2010 Local Government Manifesto opened with a most unfortunate assessment of its political condition: “We are almost at the finish line.” This misrepresentation of its two-month grip on government set the tone for a political assemblage that would, two months into a 60-month term, celebrate the “finish line”, instead of organising itself at the starting gate.
The Partnership also invoked this “PNM jumbie” for the THA elections, the opening of the Chaguanas West by-election, and every other time it faced a “water more than flour” situation.
With the next local government elections upon us we can expect a regurgitation of the 2010 lament: “The prospect of losing the local government elections is too frightening to even consider. The PNM will stymie our every attempt to improve the conditions in communities across Trinidad and Tobago. They will thwart our every effort.”
In repeating its mantra, the Partnership will ignore its 40 months with a comfortable majority in government, the defeat of the PNM in May 2010 that left no doubt about the resolve of the majority of the voters, and sufficient goodwill upon which to fashion a credible response to a period of insolent PNM government. In these local government elections, the country will not be frightened by the prospect of PNM power, but will judge the Partnership by its own lack of merit.
As it sunk into government, the Partnership’s next weakness was exposed. The backaches of carrying unfulfilled elections promises became evident. The power and influence of government can be intoxicating, and the responsibilities less obvious or attractive.
The Partnership’s early difficulties became its brand, and along the way it has consistently lost support and credibility. Over the 40 months the coalition has failed to deliver on its own rhetoric.
In its 2010 Local Government Manifesto, the UNC-led Partnership boasted that, “the thrust of the People’s Partnership Government to transform the existing political system is deeply rooted in a shared goal of democracy and the rule of law, which cannot be separated from the basic philosophy of anti-corruption”.
On the local government elections platform, no one will be able to provide the evidence of the Partnership’s anti-corruption philosophy. Over its 40 months the Partnership has failed to deliver on its own five pillars for the, “institutionalisation of meaningful local government”.
The Partnership fails on its own scorecard for “people-centred government, good governance, accountability, national and personal security, and a more diversified economy”. The Partnership’s biggest hoax is its national security promise. Its screenwriters promised “to inject and popularise a different and holistic concept of national security that lays more emphasis on economic, financial, social, emotional, physiological and spiritual security”.
With the Partnership in search of this holistic blah, blah, blah, the criminals have stuck to the basic tools of guns, bloodshed, violence, and fear, to lock down communities, command turf, and buy or shoot their way through obstruction.
The security and prosperity the Partnership promised to focus on has not filtered beyond the State-provided security handlers afforded to those in government and the access to prosperity that now seems a natural part of being in government or close to someone who is. Unlike May and July 2010, the Partnership will not have the cushion of campaigning against the PNM’s record in office, but must defend its own. In the remaining 20 months, those five promised pillars could easily become six strong pallbearers.
In the remaining 20 months of the Partnership things will get worse. The Partnership’s “third trimester” begins with a reshuffled Cabinet and the local government elections. Unlike the Chaguanas West by-election, the local government polls puts the Partnership against a more aggressive PNM and the vote-splitting power of Jack Warner. It also puts the Partnership into an election with a diminishing facade of a “coalition” power, as the inner core of the COP drifts in a more determined, though less influential way.
Ultimately, the next 20-month- phase, beginning with the local government elections, puts all the politicians into the ring with the voters themselves, with Chaguanas West proving that voters are quite capable of going on a frolic of their own.
It’s the third phase of the Partnership’s hold on power, and the final opportunity to deliver on the promise for which it was conceived. Guided by the 40 months that have gone, expect the expected and nothing more.
*Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer
and a university lecturer