Friday, January 19, 2018

UNC in trouble


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The TOP has now dropped dead in Tobago; the COP is a crumbled shell in Trinidad; NJAC is a pathetic ghost, pretending to be alive; and the MSJ infant has gone lost in the bush. So what "Partnership''? The UNC is alone in government; and when by itself, this party always stands exposed. It is now in big trouble.

Like the PNM, the UNC is intellectually bankrupt. But the former got a big boost from the Tobago elections. This will hide its hollowness but only for a while. So the PNM better recognise the reality. This woefully disastrous Government handed them the THA elections on a platter; they didn't even need to employ race. The PNM didn't win; the Government lost. But it has given the party yet another chance for the indispensable inner transformation that it needs. It better make hay in this sunshine. It has already missed two opportunities. I refer members to the advice I repeated in this space two weeks ago. Those who have ears….

The UNC malaise is deeper than that of its rival. Structure and process have never been this party's strong suit. There is always abroad in the organisation, a looseness and arbitrariness, a culture and character that could have been deliberately engineered by Basdeo Panday to maintain absolute control during the 30-plus years he was in charge. For when the party is tribal and its systems dysfunctional, the leader is king, until he destroys himself, as Panday eventually did. But the old boy's legacy endures, so there is still no living forum in the UNC for deep introspection and fearless self-examination. No one in the party dares speak truth to power. And we are in the 21st century! So, who's to bell the cat?

We on the outside should. For the country's sake. For, as I said in an earlier column, "Both are ours'', the PNM and the UNC belong to every citizen. "They are the products of our nation, indispensable institutions of our democracy, here since the start of self-government, the PNM unchanged in name, the UNC in its third incarnation since the DLP." I said further, "they are more than political parties. They originated as instruments of people searching for a place in the sun that appeared with the arrival of self-determination. Politics was the path to the light, and these parties were the vehicles for the political aspiration of the masses, each having its base in one of the two major races, the formerly dispossessed in our country".

So, all citizens have a vested interest in the PNM and UNC. Besides, they are all we have as political entities. Everything else is either shambolic, embryonic, dead or inadequate. We must take possession of the two, not necessarily through membership. We have to reject their rubbish and demand that they measure up to the demands of an evolving Trinidad and Tobago.

Therefore I say that the UNC must now look at its leader. They must assess Kamla. They must ask hard questions. Should she continue to lead? Can the UNC remain in government with her at the helm? With Kamla, will the UNC be attractive enough to coalition suitors without which it will continue to shrink? They should remember that Basdeo Panday was the stumbling block to a coalition in 2007 when the COP went its own way and the PNM retained office.

Kamla's leadership should be examined dispassionately. She is no longer acceptable to that critical independent, growing minority which has been influencing general election outcomes since the 80s, and without which the Partnership would not have won in 2010. As polls reveal, her popularity has plummeted among this sector of the electorate which is now truly appalled at her inadequacies as Prime Minister. Etched in their consciousness are: her general inefficiency, flimsiness and lack of gravitas; no comprehension of the job of Prime Minister and trivilisation 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; making appointments that reek of nepotism including the absurdity of Reshmi Ramnarine; 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 critical floating vote is completely disillusioned. The disgust shown in Tobago is also very strong in this sector in Trinidad. They will not support Kamla as Prime Minister if there is an election today. And most importantly, the UNC should know that the independent constituency feels strongly that the lady is irredeemable. Neither miracle nor epiphany will happen here. Kamla needs re-education for any transformation to begin.

But sadly, in the unlikely event of an internal UNC assessment, Kamla will be spared. There is no attractive replacement. This underscores the depth of the problem in this party and the entire politics. Our national political stage is peopled mainly with unworthies, most ironically carrying university degrees. Today, no MP in the UNC can generate any enthusiasm as a replacement for Kamla, and that speaks volumes about the party's front liners.

Heir-apparent Roodal Moonilal has stumbled badly with his ugly causticity of speech that produced "cult'' as a four-letter word and "bags of aloo'' to describe female protesters, revealing a disturbing uncouthness. So Kamla is unchallenged in her party. Any credible alternative could only lie beyond the parliamentary arm. But the loose, tribal UNC is now unable to produce any such daring creativity. The party will remain in deep trouble.

• Ralph Maraj is a former

government minister