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A political education for Mr Ramadhar

By Michael Harris

We should not begrudge Prakash Ramadhar, political leader of the Congress of the People (COP), his vacation abroad with his family. I am sure that he really needed this vacation if only to get some time to clear his head and reflect on the situation in which he finds himself. Such reflection, if honest, might suggest to him that, in political terms, he is walking on a greased tightrope stretched over a pool of quicksand.

The difficulties of his immediate situation are well known. In the first place, outraged by the Marlene Coudray defection to the UNC, Mr Ramadhar issued a demand that she be replaced as the Mayor of San Fernando by a COP appointee. In making his demand he had stated that if it were not met he would have to "revisit" his party's role in the Partnership and had warned that the issue could very well signal the collapse of the coalition. After two lengthy meetings among the political leaders of the constituent parties of the Partnership Government to discuss the issue he is no closer to having his demand met.

The other immediate problem Mr Ramadhar faces is the open opposition coming from Minister Anil Roberts, a member of his own party. This issue initially arose as a consequence of the first since Mr Roberts had publicly criticised the position taken by Mr Ramadhar on the Marlene Coudray affair. The issue however swiftly attained a life of its own when Mr Ramadhar suggested on a television programme that Mr Roberts might be disciplined by the party for opposing the political leader.

Mr Roberts is a loud-mouthed, crude and often vulgar politician, but he is, nonetheless, a politician and he has not hesitated to seize the opening presented by Mr Ramadhar response to continue pelting political boulders at him and his leadership of the party.

A little reflection should suggest to Mr Ramadhar that his response to Mr Roberts was a political error and has simply cut a track for Mr Roberts to run. Mr Roberts, after all, is not a supporter of Mr Ramadhar. He had contested the elections for the post of political leader of the party against Mr Ramadhar and the fact that he lost is no reason to believe that his ambitions have been curtailed. Now, at a time when Mr Ramadhar needs all the support he can get from his own base, he faces a rampant Mr Roberts undermining him at every turn.

But Mr Ramadhar's response to Mr Roberts was a political error for another reason. As political leader of the COP, he has, on a number of occasions, publicly voiced his concerns, and sometimes his outright opposition, to issues developing within the coalition Government and has maintained his right to do so amidst charges that such public voicing of his concerns was embarrassing the Government.

Clearly Mr Ramadhar cannot, without appearing to be a total hypocrite, maintain his right, within the Partnership coalition, to speak publicly on issues which concern him, but, when a member of his own coalition does the same, start talking about disciplinary action.

This brings us to the more fundamental problem facing Mr Ramadhar of which the Marlene Coudray affair is but a symptom —the fact that the COP itself is a coalition. My fellow Express columnist Selwyn Ryan, has written that the COP is "a coalition which brings together the upwardly mobile Afros who once provided the social and intellectual sinews of the PNM, the social and economically successful urban and suburban Indians………. the non-orthodox Hindus …and other Hindu and Muslim groups, as well as the Presbyterian, Catholic and Born Again Christians."

Holding such an amalgam of conflicting and, in some cases irreconcilable, interests together has always been and will continue to be an exceedingly difficult proposition. Such conflicting interests ever since the COP's defeat in the 2007 general elections, have continuously threatened to tear the party apart.

What held the party together until 2010 when it exhaustedly collapsed into the People's Partnership was the personality and the politics of its founder and former political leader, Winston Dookeran who did so by assiduously protecting and maintaining his reputation as a man of great probity and integrity and by steadfastly steering clear of making any definitive statement on any issue of national importance which could potentially divide his politically polyglot party.

Mr Ramadhar has none of the experience, reputation and temperament of Mr Dookeran, and ever since his election to the post of political leader he has been stumbling to find some way of holding his fractious coalition together. There are only two things which most of the elements of his party share: a thirst for office and antipathy towards the UNC.

This is why, although the party was saved by its participation in the Partnership Government it has always been uncomfortable in a government dominated by the UNC; why its protests have always been about its rightful share of the spoils of office; and why, in the words of columnist Tony Fraser, they have always evinced "the pain of resentment for what they consider political bullying by the dominant party."

This is also why the Marlene Coudray issue has become such a cause celebre for the COP. That issue brought into sharp focus all their resentments at the UNC by both robbing them of a high profile member and a significant office in one fell swoop. The pressure on Mr Ramadhar must have been overwhelming and he must have felt that he had no choice but to draw a line in the sand on that issue.

Mr Ramadhar now finds himself in that most unenviable of positions, one in which, in the words of the late Lloyd Best, "anything you do is a mistake". As he uses his vacation time to clear his head he might ponder on one lesson to be learnt. A leader cannot be all things to all men at all times. Sooner or later a leader has to take his stand on what for him is the most important principle and let the chips fall where they may.

• Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and

commentator on politics and

society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean. He is a long-standing member of the Tapia House

Group and works as a human

resource executive.

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