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Partnership under stress

The Congress of the People (COP) has been independently on the road, raising consciousness about its priority issues, such as constitutional reform and hopefully building support around their advancement. CoP spokespersons have also gone further than the Government in demanding investigation and accountability for reported police excesses.

But the most dramatic sign of the stresses facing the coalition government today came with the weekend's ultimatum issued by the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ). Now before the People's Partnership administration is a ten-point list of "issues'' on which its MSJ coalition partner expect action by a nine-week deadline.

On April 21, 2010 the leaders of the COP had joined hands and hearts with the MSJ, the United National Congress, the Tobago Organisation of the People and the National Joint Action Committee. The resulting People's Partnership was just over four weeks away from proving a runaway general election winner.

This was always destined to be a less-than-perfect union, especially after responsibilities of government had been, on short notice, thrust upon a coalition headed by a leader herself brand new and untested. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has, nevertheless, both received and claimed credit for keeping the Partnership together.

Any signs, then, of the coalition's coming unstuck must necessarily reflect on Mrs Persad-Bissessar's leadership and capacity to combine disparate strains under uniquely stressful conditions. The picture of MSJ members, then, assembled behind leader David Abdulah (himself a government Senator), delivering non-negotiable demands, illustrates an extreme episode of pressure-testing both for the integrity of the Partnership and the proficiency of its leadership.

In the build-up to the March 2-3 no-confidence motion debate, the Partnership had published newspaper ads reporting constituent leaders' messages of allegiance to and confidence in the Prime Minister. The least enthusiastic of these messages came from MSJ leader Mr Abdulah.

Shortly, thereafter, Ancel Roget, leader of the OWTU, a heavyweight element within the MSJ, described his members as enduring "an abusive relationship" within the Partnership. "Who want to stay could stay, but I risked it to go in and I am coming back out," he said.

The "issues'' now confronting the Government, cover, apart from labour concerns, land tenure, constitutional and administrative reform, privatisation of State enterprises, curbing police action against civil society and the media, and "implementing the cultural sector's agenda".

Mr Roget has said the labour movement did not expect special treatment because of the MSJ's representation in the person of Labour Minister Errol McLeod. Nevertheless, the ten "issues'' must be taken for what Mr Roget and his out-of-office MSJ colleagues expected by now as of right.

This juncture represents a failure by the MSJ to promote its agenda inside the Partnership administration, and a failure by the Prime Minister to so manage matters as not to alienate a partner as terminally as it appears.

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