UNC pulls a wild card
T he United National Congress' internal election campaign reached its climax yesterday, amid the competitive excitement that is now characteristic of such events in that party. In an unexpected turn last week, however, actions and reactions by Congress of the People (COP) people have claimed the headlines. So much so, as even to steal some thunder from the UNC whose big moment this was supposed to be.
The COP leadership predictably took it badly when Marlene Coudray, San Fernando Mayor on that party's ticket, suddenly came out of the closet to proclaim her allegiance instead for the UNC. Moreover, Ms Coudray, having revealed that such side-switching had occurred as far back as 2010, was yesterday on the ballot for a UNC deputy political leader position.
In some ways, the reaction of the COP leadership to Ms Coudray's crossing over and running for UNC deputy political leader has been more surprising than the San Fernando Mayor's action itself. Chairman Joseph Toney and political leader Prakash Ramadhar loudly cried foul.
True, the party's political account showed a debit to the extent of the loss of the prestigious position of Mayor of T&T's second city. Initial responses expressed shock that such COP loss should accrue to UNC gain. In the worst interpretations, this was made out to be a sneak attack, or "poaching", by the UNC coalition partner.
COP leaders used terms like "deadly" and "disrespectful" to characterise the Coudray shift. But such responses said more about the COP's unawareness and insecurities than it did about Ms Coudray. From her time as San Fernando City Corporation CEO, she had had shown herself to be, if not a loose cannon then, at least, someone difficult to plot or control.
It was under national and local People's National Movement (PNM) leadership that she first shot to public notoriety. She successfully defied as jealously all-controlling a figure as Prime Minister Patrick Manning. Ms Coudray's close ties with then PNM MP and one-time Cabinet Minister, Larry Achong, complicated matters. But this only confirmed her projection as indisputably her own woman.
It's what San Fernando councillors came to realise since she donned the mayoral chain, and proceeded to run the show by her own lights, as director. With typical Marlene Coudray unpredictability, she left the COP, without troubling to give notice, and she ran for high UNC office.
For now, her doing so hardly stress-tests the viability of the People's Partnership to which the COP and the UNC belong, though her rival, Justice Minister Herbert Volney, has adopted attack mode. For she appears not to be leading any exodus from COP to UNC.
Whether she's winner or not in yesterday's contest, it's the UNC, and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in particular, that are now challenged to deal with the wild card that Marlene Coudray represents.