Sunday, February 18, 2018

The politics of déjà vu


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The demand by Congress of the People (COP) leader Prakash Ramadhar for the return of the San Fernando mayorship to his party marks both a calculated act of brinkmanship and a peremptory challenge to the leadership credentials of Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Less than a month ago, on March 2, before the no-confidence motion parliamentary debate, Mr Ramadhar had publicly declared the COP a "committed member" of the Government and affirmed his "full confidence" in the PM. Hardly has the ink dried on those words than the same Mr Ramadhar is issuing ultimatums and threatening to lead his party out of the People's Partnership over the defection of Mayor Marlene Coudray from the ranks of the COP into the United National Congress (UNC).

With the already disenchanted Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) backing the COP's position, we now have a three-ring circus that threatens the very viability of the Partnership, both as a political vehicle and as a government.

As is her style, the PM can be expected to pour oil over the troubled water in which her government has found itself, but it's going to take a lot more than that to find some basis for a real negotiation of a truce among these increasingly fractious parties of the People's Partnership.

The core problem, of course, is the Partnership's failure to establish the internal mechanism for consensual decision-making at the political level to guide the actions of its government. Hustled into an election campaign in 2010, the People's Partnership claimed it did not have adequate time to do more than sign the Fyzabad Accord. After two years, the Accord survives only as an exercise in public relations and campaign rhetoric along the theme of "One Love".

A few weeks ago, at the height of the Government's campaign against the Opposition's no-confidence motion, the Prime Minister publicly promised to participate in a summit of the Partnership's leaders. With two days to go, the indications are that this party of parties is headed in the opposite direction of consensus, which merely underscores the urgent need for such a summit.

History is not on the side of the People's Partnership. Neither the NAR, a unitary party of parties, nor the UNC-DAC coalition was able to escape the political culture of maximum leadership. In both cases, their governments fell prey to the instinct to scuttle and supplant their partners in the political firmament even as they pledged abiding support for each other. Ultimately, the stresses were too much to bear, leading to the collapse of their political partnerships and, ultimately, the loss of office. With the People's Partnership Government, it is déjà vu all over again.

While these political dramas play themselves out, the real issue for the country is the toll it will take on the quality of governance by the Government and the impact on the lives of the people they were elected to serve.