Thursday, February 22, 2018

Rays of moonlight in the dark

IF I were the prime minister, I too would rejoice at the news coming from the latest polls by Solution by Simulation (SbS). In fact, I would throw a big, big party and invite all the faithful, including Anil look-alike (minus the ganja, of course!). For this is incredibly positive news in the context of a siege of scandals either created by or involving my government. SbS asked the respondents whether they approved or disapproved of the job Mrs Persad-Bissessar was doing as Prime Minister, and 48 per cent of them said they approved, with 27 per cent “strongly’’ and 21 per cent “somewhat’’ approving.

Her stocks are rising! In 2012, her approval rating was 37 per cent; in 2013, it was 38 per cent; and now, it is 48 per cent. A crawl of one per cent in 2013, then a jump of ten—in an election year! Yaaaaay!

And if I were she, I would also gush as she did (though not with the same words in some instances):

“I remain the Kamla (you) endorsed and inspired to rise for 30 years! I will never stop being that person whose inspiration comes from (you) the people and whose commitment to (you) will always prevail!”

“I have worked for (you) the people for 30 years, walked among (you), and listened to (you)! When (you) said good, bad, and yes, ugly. And I have learned that every message should be taken constructively. I (have) listened for the past four years and I (have) acted as I always do—… always in the best interest of (you) the people who (give) me that overwhelming, great privilege of the mandate to serve. (There’s) a special relationship and bond (with you), which can only grow stronger …”

And I would throw in a few words of self-deprecating humility:

“If the poll means that work we are doing is satisfying a greater number of people, then I humbly embrace it all with gratitude. This is never about how well I do, but (about) how much we satisfy the needs and meet the expectations of those who entrust us with that responsibility.”

But I would be cautious, very cautious, as my Government and I move forward in the next 11 months. For a number of very good reasons.

One of them is that a 48 per cent approval rating is a fail if we use the midpoint as pass mark; and it is a fail that does not inform us of how the respondents are ethnically or demographically distributed. Given voting patterns in this country over the years, I would want to know what percentage of the 48 is from my party’s/government’s base and what percentage is not. And there are two other things I would also take note of: 1. The fact that 44 per cent of the respondents disapproved of the job I am doing, with 26 per cent “strongly’’ disapproving and 18 per cent “somewhat’’ approving; and 2. The fact that the percentage of respondents who strongly disapproved is practically the same as the percentage strongly approving (26 per cent vs 27 per cent).

A second very good reason is that the scandals keep coming unabated. Two of the latest are • the appointment of a criminal (or criminals) to co-ordinate certain aspects of the Government’s LifeSport programme, with control over the disbursement of millions of dollars, and • the involvement of somebody looking suspiciously like a government minister in the smoking of marijuana in a video. The LifeSport programme has since been moved out of the Ministry Sport into the Ministry of National Security, whose minister has published a no-nonsense approach towards the involvement and endorsement of criminals everywhere, but specifically in the programme.

I get the good feeling that Minister Griffith will weed out the criminal leadership in the programme. But I also get the bad feeling that neither will Minister Roberts resign nor will the Prime Minister take steps to have his appointment as minister revoked. Two critical questions that arise are, Could the Prime Minister not have known about the criminalisation of the programme? And would her current ray of moonlight hold steady in the spreading darkness in the context of retention of Roberts?

A third very good reason is that, just like the Prime Minister’s, the stocks of the Opposition leader are also rising. The SbS poll did not probe the respondents on whether or not they approved of the job Keith Rowley was doing as opposition leader, but it asked, simply, “What is your opinion of Dr Keith Rowley?, which was a question on favourability rather than on approval. Forty-seven per cent saw him in a “favourable’’ light, with 24 per cent saying “very favourable’’ and 18 per cent saying “somewhat favourable’’. Dr Rowley’s prosecution of the political issues is distinctly impressive, and he too is a ray of moonlight in the gathering darkness.

The questions on Mrs Persad-Bissessar and Dr Rowley are not questions on the chances of their parties winning the next general elections; other polls are needed to treat that issue. But the answers do show both leaders in a good light, with one gushing about the positive feedback and the other apparently not having been asked for a reaction (unless I missed it).

Both leaders need to so work that their numbers will go up appreciably; 48 per cent won’t cut it. In the case of Mrs Persad-Bissessar, she must know, unless she is a victim of self-delusion, that lots of former supporters have irrevocably turned away from her Government. So she must be pondering if she alone can turn back the tide? In the case of Dr Rowley, he must know, unless he is lulled into complacency by the relentless errancy of the Government, that he must quickly develop an exciting and innovative democratic alternative programme, mustn’t he?