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The last fig-leafremaining

By Michael Harris

The resounding and total defeat of the TOP in the THA elections and, more particularly, the reasons for that defeat which I sought to advance in my article last week, means that the TOP, regardless of whatever decision Ashworth Jack makes with regard to leadership of the party, is dead as a political force in Tobago.

This political demise of the TOP is not only important in Tobago, where it is certain to open up possibilities for new parties, arrangements and alignments, but also in Trinidad, where it inevitably will have the effect of stripping from the People's Partnership another major piece of the hastily stitched together coalition and leave it more exposed than ever for what, in essence, it always was, the old UNC minus Mr Panday.

The dismantling of the façade of a national party began with the withdrawal from the Partnership of the MSJ some nine months ago. Although it is a small, almost insignificant, party in electoral terms, the departure of the MSJ removed from the Partnership a significant element— labour—from its ranks, and perhaps even more importantly, an important symbol of ideological integrity.

NJAC, another partner in the coalition, has always been there essentially for cosmetic purposes. But even such ethnic colouration as it supplied has all but washed out as the population has witnessed the giant of the "1970 revolution'', on the few occasions on which he has been trotted out to speak, display, sadly, a mind no longer capable of coherent thought. Thus all that is left of the coalitional cloak of national unity is the COP, the last piece of fig-leaf still attached.

There can be no question that in the 2010 elections the COP played a significant role in giving a measure of credibility to the Partnership. It was the COP, and in particular its leader, Winston Dookeran, with his carefully constructed reputation for integrity and righteousness, which allowed the electorate, in circumstances where it was desperate to get rid of Mr Manning and all his works, to give the benefit of the doubt to Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her coalition.

Now, almost three years later, the question has to be asked as to whether the COP still has the same capacity to mask the true nature of the Partnership once again? The answer to that, in my considered opinion, is a resounding "No". In the period since the last election the Partnership has repeatedly demonstrated that it moves to the rhythm of the UNC, and the UNC has repeatedly shown that, shorn of the political guile of Mr Panday, it is nothing but a "a pestilent cesspool of corruption and iniquity".

In the midst of this cesspool the COP has found itself to be virtually impotent, incapable of influencing, to any significant degree, its senior partner. Its loudest and most vigorous protest came early in the administration and that was over the issue of the sharing of the spoils of office. Thereafter, its voice has grown progressively more muted as the depredations of the Government became more and more excessive

It could do nothing when its member, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, was unceremoniously dumped from the Ministry of Energy. It ended up putting its tail between its legs over the Marlene Coudray affair. It stood numbly by, muttering vague inanities, as the Government proclaimed Section 34. And most recently it has found itself publicly chastised by the UNC over the opinion voiced by its chairman on the results of the THA elections. And these are just a few examples.

The COP's voice has been heard the loudest when the issue is internal to itself. Apart from the elections which have been held there have been very public and very acrimonious disputes between senior members of the party. The dispute between Prakash Ramadhar and Anil Roberts and the dispute between the executive and Vernon de Lima immediately come to mind.

That such contentious internal disputes should have taken place ought not to surprise us and must be related back to the discomfort and anxieties of the membership over its very evident impotence in the Partnership and the also evident and growing disaffection of the population with the Partnership.

Indeed those internal disputes are the outward and visible signs of the serious internal fracturing taking place within the COP. Let us remember that the COP was itself a coalition of forces and under the stresses brought about by its place in the Government the coalition has broken apart. So that today there is to be discerned three separate tendencies within the COP.

The first of these is comprised of those members who believe that the COP is a member of the Government and should firmly align itself with the Government and make no noises which could be perceived as detracting from popular support. The second tendency is comprised of those who believe that the COP should stay within the Partnership but, on every issue, and at all cost seek to maintain its own identity, separate and distinct from the UNC.

The third tendency is comprised of all of those who believe that the COP should pull out forthwith from the Partnership. These persons are of the view that the UNC-led Partnership is indelibly stained with corruption and such corruption is certain to rub off on the COP, if it has not already done so.

The outcome of this three-way contention within the COP is difficult to predict. What can be said with certainty is that the contentiousness will get worse as 2015 draws closer and well before that date we shall be witness to the final denouement. By that time the question of how much influence the COP can exert of the outcome of any election may not need to be asked at all.

• Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and commentator on

politics and society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean.

—The Michael Harris column returns on February 18

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