Challenge facing new COP chairman
Newly elected Congress of the People chairman, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, has identified "disillusionment and dissatisfaction among members" as one of the major challenges facing her.
In this respect, Ms Seepersad-Bachan first has to identify the root of the COP members' disenchantment. "Also important is that we need to return to the principles and values of the party," she said — a comment which could be interpreted as criticism of her political leader Prakash Ramadhar. But, in politics, rhetoric about principles is often cover for people's dissatisfaction with lack of power — in this case, the low influence wielded by the COP within the People's Partnership coalition. Even so, because of the COP's "new politics" branding, the party's image depends, to a great extent, on its readiness to critique Government policies. That task has only become more salient as unsavoury allegations about the People's Partnership have piled up since May 2010, culminating in Section 34.
Ms Seepersad-Bachan also has the challenge of straddling her post as Cabinet minister and chairman of the COP. She attempted to make a distinction between Cabinet responsibility and Cabinet confidentiality, arguing that Cabinet matters should not be publicly discussed if doing so would harm the country. But, in any matter which is potentially embarrassing to the Government, the argument would always be that breaching confidentiality would harm the country by reducing confidence in the ruling party. So Ms Seepersad-Bachan's argument is essentially empty.
The problem, as Mr Ramadhar has already discovered, is that the second-biggest coalition member in the People's Partnership simply isn't big enough. The only card the COP has to play within the Government is to leave the coalition and, even if all five COP members walked (and that is by no means a given) the People's Partnership would still retain office with 24 MPs in the Lower House. This implies that any attempt by the COP to influence key policy decisions and actions taken by the majority UNC partner has limited chances of success.
Even so, the potential public relations fallout from any disputes lends the COP some political leverage. And a revitalised party executive would concomitantly exert more influence, which is why Ms Seepersad-Bachan is right to focus on winning back members' confidence. But, as the COP's internal elections last Sunday showed, that goal alone requires a herculean effort. Although the turnout was 25 per cent higher than in 2010, according to party officials, only six per cent of the membership bothered to cast a ballot.
Ms Seepersad-Bachan therefore has to break a vicious circle, wherein members' disillusionment would be reduced by heightened COP influence, but greater influence depends on a revitalised membership. How the new COP chairman will meet this challenge will make for interesting politics.