Friday, December 15, 2017

Another challenge for the Prime Minister

Express editorial logo423

Mark Fraser

It is somewhat paradoxical that a Prime Minister should get a higher approval rating than the Government she leads. Yet this is the finding of a poll commissioned by the Trinidad Express on the fourth anniversary of the People’s Partnership Government conducted by Solutions by Simulation (SBS) earlier this month.

Whereas 48 per cent of the respondents found that Kamla Persad-Bissessar was doing a good job as Prime Minister, only 27 per cent had a positive rating for the Government. Indeed, among those persons who approved of the Prime Minister, only 45 per cent also had confidence in the Government.

For this to happen, respondents would have to be separating Ms Persad-Bissessar’s leadership from the ministers and other officials under her. One possible explanation for this curious perspective is that the public believes that there is a cabal which acts without the knowledge or approval of the PM. A more likely possibility, however, is that Ms Persad-Bissessar got a positive rating because of her dismissal of various Government ministers for their transgressions. Put another way, the Prime Minister got a higher approval rating than the Government because she was seen to be taking action against the Government.

If this is the case, then Ms Persad-Bissessar has to make some hard decisions in order to maintain her approval ratings. As she herself stated after firing Dr Ramadharsingh: “I hold no brief for any man or woman save the greater public interest. I am always aware of the higher expectation upon which this Government was elected and the immense responsibility each of us has to uphold public trust in all we do every single day of our lives. It is not a responsibility we can choose to have one day and lose the next.”

However, citizens are well aware that politicians’ fine-sounding words are subject to political calculations. Given the perceived dichotomy between herself and her administration, Ms Persad-Bissessar must realise that all the political gains she has won by previous dismissals will be entirely negated if she now refuses to remove any ministers whose actions have brought her administration into deeper disrepute.

With 42 per cent of the respondents giving her a negative rating, the Prime Minister has little room for backsliding, especially since the poll also found that PNM Leader Keith Rowley matched her approval rating at 47 per cent. Admittedly, this is not particularly high for a leader in opposition but, with the Government’s low rating, it is high enough to unseat the People’s Partnership administration in 2015.

The challenge, then, is for the Prime Minister to use her own approval ratings to raise the Government’s. Ironically, it seems that the best way to accomplish this is by taking action against her errant colleagues.