Forget all that voice of the people thing. The real purpose behind the People’s Partnership’s one-step lunge towards proportional representation (PR) is to eke out some space for itself in what it now clearly perceives as its fate of certain defeat.
After the wipeouts in Tobago and Chaguanas West, the People’s Partnership now seems so resigned to a future of electoral annihilation that it is actually preparing for that day when it comes.
And for this, no option could be more opportune than proportional representation- never mind that it wasn’t even mentioned in the Partnership’s 2010 manifesto.
Unlike the prevailing winner-take-all, first-past-the-post system, PR actually makes space for runners-up in the political system.
No surprise then that PR is a favourite of parties in opposition but anathema to parties in government. Those in power don’t want to share; those without power want a share. This has been the consistent position of political parties until now when, lo and behold! a governing party functioning under extreme pressure has scoured the laws and chanced upon a loophole for maintaining a toe-hold in defeat.
True, their options are limited to alderpersons which is all the room that its simple majority can buy. But in this guava season of support, and with the fear of Jack coursing like poison through the veins of the politically complacent, every little advantage counts.
By a zig-zag process of vaps and voops, and with characteristic lack of think-through and disregard for public opinion and consequences, the Prime Minister has latched on to the short end of the PR straw which will now be dressed up and paraded as some breakthrough in inclusive democracy to cover the nakedness of its political expediency.
We’ll see how far that goes.
When the right thing is done for the wrong reason or the wrong thing done for the right reason, you could never know what outcome to expect. Such is the mystery of spiritual chemistry.
Still, the fact that we are now at a stage where a government is willing to embrace proportional representation is another encouraging indication of the rapid collapse of the old political order.
The speed with which we are pushing parties through the revolving door of government is finally beginning to take its toll on the old culture of political complacency. It has taken all of 32 years, but politicians are finally beginning to give up the ghost of Eric Williams’s 25-year hold on power. Nobody any longer expects to re-live that.
Finally, they are coming to terms with the reality that power taken to the heights of office is no longer secure.
Just to survive one term these days is a downright miracle. And so, while we can expect the PNM to give the PM’s proposal a well-deserved blasting, we shouldn’t be surprised if that party, too, is willing to consider the merits of political reform towards greater inclusiveness.
So, there is opportunity here but we’re going to have to think fast.
The Government’s heightened level of insecurity is opening up some real possibilities for us as the Prime Minister’s defiance against public opinion crumbles with the circle of influence tightening around her. This is a Government that is now so weak, it is willing to negotiate almost everything- if only it knew where to start and how to proceed.
Against her will, the PM has already had to give up Jack, offer up Volney and prepare to surrender a few more heads in the next week or so.
When a government is on the backfoot, public opinion can make real headway if it is organised and articulate. It shouldn’t have to shut down the country to be heard.
Instinctively, the Prime Minister recognises this. Her suggestion of a “national conversation” is the right instinct in the circumstances into which she had led her Government.
But the idea of a website and hotline for direct communication between the people and the Government falls woefully, woefully short and will do nothing to help the PP claw back its lost support.
What is needed is what the Government has consistently refused to do, trapped as it is in the old culture of autocratic politics.
It has refused honest and open engagement with the public in preference for secrecy, propaganda and manipulation.
The Prime Minister’s failure to deliver anything resembling a new politics of competence, transparency, integrity in public office and government in the national interest has cost her the trust of her partners in the People’s Partnership and the public’s trust.
The Prime Minister wouldn’t have to be slipping one past us with proportional representation today had she taken constitutional reform seriously enough to appoint an independent, respected team of experts that enjoyed the support of both Government and Opposition.
Instead she delivered us a team chaired by one of her Cabinet ministers.
Right from the beginning, it was obvious that this one was destined to be yet another expensive foray into nothingness.
With the Government’s options narrowing almost by the day, distraction and desperation will lead to increasing expediency with the continuing consequence of uncertainty and the risk of instability. Having never found the courage in three years to ask anything serious of the country, we can expect another election budget two Mondays from now.
At this point, we’re past the stage of expecting the centre to hold. We now have to depend on the periphery, each one of us on the outside, to keep the whole together and in one piece.