PM’s backward step
No matter how it is spun, the sad reality is that the political leader of the People’s Partnership, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has ducked out of tomorrow’s Leadership Debate organised by T&T Debates Commission.
With just 48 hours to go, the commission was informed of Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s decision to go back on her word to participate in the nationally-televised debate. In her place, the party that she leads will be represented by the leader of a sub-party of the Partnership Prakash Ramadhar, leader of the Congress of the People (COP).
Despite his apparent willingness to substitute for his leader, and with all due respect to his position in the matter, Prakash Ramadhar is not the political leader of the People’s Partnership and as such, is inappropriate for this leadership debate.
Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s decision is to be regretted because it undermines many years of civic effort towards organising a debate among political leaders in promoting a culture of rational discussion. Invariably, it is the incumbent in office who is inclined to resist the idea. Perhaps, being in office, they expect to have more to answer for. Or perhaps, ego does not allow them to stand as equals with rival political leaders. Or, as the COP is suggesting, it is the result of political haggling between the United National Congress (UNC)and the COP.
Whatever the reason for Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s decision, she should know that she has single-handedly carried us backward in making this about-turn.
This is a moment that the public has not only been longing for but has sorely needed. The debates have been widely anticipated as a progressive intervention in breaking the acrimony and general tone of ugliness that define our political discourse. The chance to have political leaders stand alongside each other and address the country on matters of great public interest would have represented a much-needed breakthrough in political civility.
By pulling out, especially after agreeing to participate, the Partnership’s leader is demonstrating a lack of understanding bordering on disrespect.
A press release, inappropriately issued by the Ministry of Communications last evening, reports that the Partnership’s decision to send Mr Ramadhar as its representative in the debate was taken “in order to give a voice to the COP and its leader” since the Debates Commission had refused to allow the COP to participate. The statement also suggested that it was the COP’s turn to engage in the debate since the UNC Deputy Political Leader Suruj Rambachan had represented the Partnership in last week’s debate.
If this sequence of events is accurate, it would suggest that the work of the Debates Commission has fallen victim to the usual horse-trading between the UNC and COP.
In this matter, the COP’s logic is completely flawed. The requirement for tomorrow’s debate is very clear. It is a political leaders’ debate to which the People’s Partnership was invited to send its political leader. The only person who qualifies is the Political Leader of the People’s Partnership, Kamla Persad-Bissessar.