Monday, February 19, 2018

COP polls flag costs of coalition unity

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Mark Fraser

 The Congress of the People figured decisively in general election outcomes since its early days in 2007. Having entered government as part of the 2010 People’s Partnership, however, the COP proved far less capable of making its presence felt.

This must be the source of the “disillusionment” and “disenchantment” cited by leading COP figures, re-elected political leader Prakash Ramadhar and challenger Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, incumbent party chairperson.  In common with other observers, they acknowledged the significance of the 5.5 per cent turnout in last weekend’s internal election. 

In disappointing thousands, COP members declined to take part in an exercise for which promotional bells and whistles had for weeks been sounding. Such is the sobering reality. 

Low turnouts at internal elections are of course common to the UNC and, as demonstrated last May, also to the PNM. It was understandable, however, to expect better of the COP, bespoke proponents of a “new politics”, supposedly characterised more by broad-based activism and participation, and less by top-down centralisation and leadership. Mr Ramadhar claimed to find “ambiguity” and “schizophrenia” prevailing among a membership, torn between allegiance to the People’s Partnership, and an inclination to be rid of obligations to the ruling coalition. 

To find and apply remedies applicable to such a diagnosis, Mrs Seepersad-Bachan aptly noted that the reinstalled political leader has his work cut out. Since COP former leader Winston Dookeran had thrown his prestige behind the failed candidacy of Mrs Seepersad-Bachan, eyes now turn expectantly to Mr Ramadhar.

In the 2007 general elections, the then brand-new COP won 22.71 per cent of the popular vote. Its share of the popular vote, combined with that of the UNC, easily exceeded that of the PNM, which nevertheless won re-election because of a divided opposition. 

Lessons learned in 2007 powerfully instructed the mobilisation that resulted in the formidable 2010 electoral machine of the People’s Partnership. Electoral outcomes since then have lowered expectations of the Partnership and, with special reference to the COP in the 2013 local government polls, have devastated hopes.

No surprise, then, that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar appraised the COP internal election both for what it said of the party’s viability, and how that is likely to work to the benefit of the Partnership. “The COP’s peaceful democratic exercise has consolidated the belief of all partners of the People’s Partnership, and indeed all citizens who looked on with interest, in standing together,” she promptly commented.

Togetherness figures highly in Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s outlook on the prospects for the 2015 general elections. She must know, however, that as the COP internal polls suggest, togetherness will not come at any cost. COP leaders and members will need to be satisfied with what is in it for them. And that has to go beyond playing the role of junior partners clearly vested with little effective influence.