UNDER the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her cohorts, the United National Congress (UNC) is fast declining. They led the charge on behalf of the Partnership in the election battles of Tobago and Chaguanas West and suffered humiliating defeats. They now face local government elections and another by-election with very dim prospects.
One clear sign of a significantly weakened UNC is the muscular attitude, bordering on bullying, that the Congress of the People (COP) feels safe enough to demonstrate as it negotiates to determine arrangements for local government elections. The COP boldly states it wants to fight corporations “on its own’’ whilst the Prime Minister and the UNC have made clear their preference for the Partnership to field a joint team in every corporation. But according to news reports and the aggressive declarations of Mrs Seepersad-Bachan, chair of the COP, her party is getting its way, for there is already agreement that the COP will fight between four and six corporations. The party is also adamant that it will not yield Tunapuna/Piarco which spans the area represented by five of its MPs.
There are further signs of a weakening UNC. Ensconced in the UNC fraternity since 2010 to the extent that the PM named him caretaker of a UNC-held seat, Ganga Singh has suddenly declared he is COP and will not fight St Joesph. The rats are deserting the sinking UNC. Then to appease the COP, Kamla is allowing Prakash Ramadhar to act as Prime Minister during her absence from the country. Also, the PM recently called a meeting of Cabinet to discuss “improving government’s performance’’ but which was really intended to engender camaraderie and solidarity among the Partnership’s two major partners. It is now very clear that the UNC needs the COP for its survival. The arrogance in dealing with its junior partner has vanished and replaced by a courtship of the COP by the diminished UNC.
The entire situation reveals the UNC cannot maintain the gains it made over the last two decades, with inroads into the urban constituencies of San Fernando and the East-West corridor. In its present situation and under the present leadership the party will have to surrender its tenuous presence in the nation’s urbanised, creolised constituencies and shrink back to its rural base where it stagnated until 1995 when it began to emerge from the “plantation’’ to enter the “port’’ and win an election on its own for the first and only time in 2000. The UNC has slipped very far from that height, and peals of derisive laughter would accompany any suggestion it could repeat the feat in the next general election. The Prime Minister herself has recognised the party’s condition, saying her UNC-led government is prepared to lose the St Joseph by-election.
More troubling for the party is that, as demonstrated in Chaguanas West, the UNC can no longer feel safe in its heartland constituencies. This is the extent of its problem. Is the threat existential? Will the shrinkage continue to the point where the party ceases to exist? Will this be the legacy of Kamla and the “cabal’’ after inheriting a party brimming with energy and possibility? The immediate question is this: Will the defeat in Chaguanas West be replicated in the next general elections and in other constituencies where the UNC has been so far unassailable?
There is definite disillusionment with the party now spreading in its heartland constituencies. Can the UNC leadership stop the rot before it takes irretrievable root?
The prospects are not promising. Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s inadequacies are monumental. As I said in an earlier piece, her leadership is characterised by “general inefficiency, flimsiness and lack of gravitas; little comprehension of the job of Prime Minister and trivialisation of this high office; capsizing the law with Section 34 to free political investors accused of massive corruption; acting principally out of political expediency rather than in the national interest; appointments that reek of nepotism; perception of massive corruption under her rule; embarrassments like bowing at the feet of the Indian president; unforgivable attack on the Leader of the Opposition at the Divali Nagar; no new developmental initiatives; little focus on a stagnating economy; no foreign investments and business expansion; a nation adrift and without direction”.
The PM is no longer acceptable to that growing critical independent, minority without whose support, thankfully, no party can win a general election.
But if not Kamla to save the diminishing UNC, who?
There is no visible replacement, underscoring the depth of the party’s problem. The entire present leadership is held responsible for the party’s condition and all are frowned upon by the citizenry, including die-hard supporters. Some unknown will have to emerge to perform the rescue. But where is that individual to come from? The UNC does not incubate leadership. Kamla emerged only after maximum leader Basdeo Panday became nationally unpalatable.
Look at the situation today. Beyond the discredited cabinet, there is no one emerging from among the ranks, because there is no structure, process or forum for such talent to emerge. The party has no life of its own. It is the footstool of the Prime Minister and her minions. It is an intellectual graveyard, the environment for sycophancy and deliberate blindness in the face of monumental missteps.
Has the party ever chastised any of its leaders, particularly the Prime Minister, for any of their huge errors?
Has it yet analysed its massive defeat in Chaguanas West?
No, and it never will, because the tribal culture persists and there is no forum in the UNC for deep introspection and fearless self-examination. None dare speak truth to power.
The UNC better wake up, for it could shrink into oblivion.
• Ralph Maraj is a
former government minister