In the wake of Chaguanas West
Today I bring to an end what turned out to be a series of articles on the implications and impact of the Chaguanas West by-election. However we should be aware that the repercussions of what happened in that by-election will reverberate through our politics for a long time to come and we undoubtedly shall have to return to the topic time and again.
Last week I dealt with the likely impact of the by-election result on the UNC. Today I look at the other parties starting with the major partner of the UNC in the coalition the Congress of the People (COP).
The political leader of the COP, Mr Prakash Ramadhar, in the wake of the by-election results, boasted that the COP was “more relevant than ever”. The question is relevant to what? The COP of today is not the party that it was prior to 2010. Vernon de Lima recently described it as “badly fractured”.
That description is absolutely correct. The coalition of forces which the COP represented prior to and in the election of 2010 is no longer intact. What we might call the ONR constituency of that coalition, after seeing its leadership capitulate over and over again to the UNC and, in the words of Bhoe Tewarie, “compromise its principles” to maintain its toehold in government, has quietly folded its tents and left the building.
The COP of 2010 brought to the coalition significant numbers and, more important, a reputation for integrity and principled politics which provided an invaluable shield behind which the UNC could hide. The COP which is left has neither numbers, nor integrity nor reputation and now brings nothing to the coalition that the UNC does not already have.
So while the fallout from the by-election has certainly brought the COP greater leverage than it has ever had, since it now can guarantee the Government’s majority in Parliament, Mr Ramadhar should be careful not to bet too much on that increased leverage.
The fact is that what remains of the COP has very few real options. Indeed it has only one option. It is much too late for them to try to assert their manhood and leave the Partnership. So now, like it or not, their political fortunes are now inextricably tied to the UNC.
They should be aware that while their increased leverage may be enough to bring them an additional seat or two, or an additional ministry or two, they really cannot demand too much lest the UNC calls their bluff. To play the withdrawal of support card in Parliament is to bring down the government. To bring down the government is to destroy themselves.
I turn next to the new party, the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), created a few weeks ago by Mr. Jack Warner. The first point to be made is that the ILP is not yet a party. It has no constitution, no structure, no plans, no programme and few members. The fact that a few political grasshoppers have jumped to it does not make it a party.
The fact is that the victory in Chaguanas West, as stunning as it was, was Jack Warner’s victory. The ILP has benefited from that victory in terms of the huge amount of attention and interest it currently attracts from anybody with any interest in politics, and many who previously have had no interest. And what everybody is waiting to see is what happens next. For the ILP the challenge is to turn that interest and attention into support and committed membership.
Mr Warner is very aware that building a political party is no easy task and that not even his deep pockets could assure the maintenance of the present levels of attraction and interest in the absence of a strong wind that could fill the party’s sails.
That is why the immediate focus of the ILP, post Chaguanas West, has been on the local government elections and why Mr Warner has been careful to set the parameters of expectations by boasting up front of what regional bodies he is going to win.
Nothing succeeds like success and Mr Warner needs those local government elections to maintain the traction of the ILP. Without elections party-building is going to be a long and arduous road and Mr Warner is emphatically not interested in any organic growth. And this is precisely why the Government is now seeking to postpone the local government elections.
So the fortunes of the ILP depend entirely on whether we have local government elections as scheduled and what happens in such elections. Without those elections and significant victory in such elections, Mr Warner is going to abandon the ILP and turn his attention to some other, faster, scheme for realising his ambitions.
The party which is perhaps most affected by what happens to the ILP is the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ).
This party, which since leaving the Government has been building itself and seeking to lay down solid foundations, has staked its position as being outside of the sphere of traditional ethnic politics represented by the PNM and the Partnership/UNC.
In other words it represented itself as the only representative of the third way. If the ILP gets its election and is successful in those elections then it poses a serious challenge to the MSJ’s claim to being the vehicle of the third force. Unfortunately for the MSJ the majority of voters will still opt for what seems to be a quick fix rather than for solid foundations.
Finally I turn to the PNM. This once mighty movement is today a shadow of its former self, mired in paralysis and impotence and lacking the leadership and acumen to both understand what is going on in the politics or to fashion an appropriate strategic response.
This party is reduced to the fervent hope that there will be general elections and it will win by default.
The more realistic prognosis, given the fallout from Chaguanas West, is that its fortunes will come to depend entirely on what happens to the UNC.
If the UNC as now seems likely falls apart, then the PNM, without massive and radical internal reconstruction, will grow increasingly more irrelevant and will slowly die from attrition.