The widely anticipated duel between "David and Goliath" has come and gone. Who won and who lost? I suppose it depends on whether the calculations are short or long term.
David had the first turn to throw stones and scored some early gains. He complained about an absence of a sense of seriousness and urgency on the part of the Prime Minister about critical issues, and about her reluctance to consult the PP coalition partners. Abdulah complained that his efforts at improving governance arrangements were thwarted by powerful elements in the partnership. "For them, it [was] not about changing the systems of governance, but changing the focus because it is "we time now". These are very serious charges, and echo allegations made by the PNM and several other observers. In their view, neither Kamla nor her "cabal" were serious about constitutional changes. We do not however know in any detail what specific reforms were proposed. All we are told is that what was recommended fell on deaf ears.
Abdulah indicated that the PM was aware that reforms were due, but that she had taken to making changes using her constitutional power as Prime Minister to change candidates and state boards. In short, she was using a Westminster formula to deal with structural issues which should be dealt with consociationally. As a party which has integrity, the MSJ rejected the invitation to tow the line and "eat-ah-food." Its aim was to take part in the cooking as a full partner and not merely partake of what was pre-cooked. Abdulah wanted Kamla to negotiate rather than just act ex cathedra.
There were however several sticking points. Kamla seemingly counter argued that David wanted to act like a trade union pressure group rather than as a leader of a political party who had to satisfy many constituent groups. Abdulah at first calculated that in order to get "real" change, he would have to light a fire beneath Kamla. Roget's role was to fan the fire, blowing hot air on it.
That strategy did not work, whereupon they concluded that they would have to paddle their own canoe and take to the streets. Will the new strategy work? Can paddles which were designed to operate on water also navigate along roads? Can the MSJ succeed in building a trans ethnic mass party? History will determine whether the mass party which was a political instrument invented in the 19th century was an appropriate option to try as a serious a vehicle to gain political power.Which matters more now, numbers or digital technology? Where are the masses? Can the strike at TCL teach us anything?
Interestingly, Abdulah is claiming that even if the MSJ did not bring many voters to the coalition, it was the MSJ that provided the integrity that was leveraged to bring down Patrick Manning, and also the glue that kept the PP partnership together. These are huge claims that are open to challenge. Some would say that David has no battalions, only a mess of soft power which does not count for much when gladiators clash.
Despite her cordiality to David, Kamla was very rough on him, perhaps much too rough. She described him as being "vacuous" and "power hungry".
His proposals for reform or on policy were said to be reckless, impossible and unreasonable ,and that his programmes were lacking in national perspective. One wonders what specific items the MSJ's shopping list called for that prompted Kamla to be so dismissive. In Kamla's view, her governance strategy was open, consultative and national, a focus which was different from the sectional strategy allegedly being pursued by the MSJ.
The COP's reaction to the MSJ was ambiguous as it was interesting. COP indicated that it "understood" and indeed shared some of the concerns of the MSJ, but opted not to join it in walking into the grave, sword in corpse's hand, action which it deemed regrettable. Its view was that the UNC was not fatally flawed and that all was not lost. Indeed, COP took the view that the political cup was more than half filled in terms of what was being done in respect of constitutional reform . Staying in the coalition was thus vital in terms of the national as opposed to the party's interest. One could not do everything in two or three years.
The COP however conceded that there was a perception abroad that the PP was dominated by the UNC, and agreed that that was an issue that had to be addressed as a matter of urgency. This was so since the UNC was being closely watched to see how it performed on the ethnic continuum. Failure to address this issue would determine whether out groups felt ethnically comfortable and secure with it's holding of the reins.
What we have here and will continue to have is an interesting but altogether familiar manifestation of strategic political positioning in coalition parties. All the parties joined the coalition hoping to get some advantage. All agreed that there was a need to bring down the Manning government as the first order of business. The second goal was to maximise their own aspirations for power and influence. The aim of each was to gain or retain dominance. The MSJ hoped to pull the coalition to the left and gain working class benefits for its supporters and fodder for itself. COP's aim was to expand its party and parliamentary strength at the expense of the UNC. COP is however an ethnically mixed party and cracks at the seams whatever choice it makes. This explains its ambivalence. The UNC as the mother party of the coalition, had as its goal the retention of its dominance and the legitimacy that derives from its ability to present itself as a truly national party appealing to all classes and ethnic groups.
The MSJ now believes that it would not gain much more, and that it would in fact lose the integrity it has by staying in the coalition. It believes it has maxed out and would be better off by taking the high ground. The COP and its leaders believe that there is still much to gain by remaining in the coalition, while the UNC believes that it has enough political clout to go it alone if it has to. Power is an aphrodisiac and the party assumes that it could wave good-bye to the MSJ and later on even the COP without losing much. Indeed the UNC claims that the MSJ had become a burden for it to carry, and that it will be stronger rather than weaker at the end of the exercise. It remains to be seen who is right and who is wrong. Who will "History" salute? More immediately, what will Errol do?