What can we expect in 2014?
On the assumption that the next general elections will be held no later than May 2015, the government, the opposition, and the electorate have some 15 months to prepare. Of course, the People’s Partnership, in some form or another, will be looking to retain power; the opposition PNM to capture power, and the electorate… well, the electorate, far more amorphous than the political outfits, will have a say in both of these regards.
Who will triumph? It is too early to say—even though the Partnership has provided more than enough evidence of misgovernance up to this point to clearly suggest that, if the swing vote plays its conscious role, and if the migrants return to home base, they will lose and the PNM win.
But it is too early to say. If one day could be an age in politics, what about 15 months?
If the incumbents want to stay in power, they will use all of the 15 months as an election period. And they will have a budget—Budget 2015—plus ample practice in the use of state funds for electioneering purposes to help them. They have been governing as if they are residing in a series of bubbles, disconnected from many communities and many voices in the electorate, but in the election period, they will look to please, pacify, and placate the best way they know how. Which is to say, they will spend monies on box drains, roads, and similar visible infrastructure in neglected communities; they will tone down the public expressions of arrogance; they will highlight work they have done outside of their tribal constituencies; and they will bombard us with images of beneficiaries from outside of that demography as well.
But that’s not all. They will strive to finish the big projects in their political constituency and keep some big promises they made to all of us. So they will step on the gas to get the following projects finished or to an advanced stage: the Point Fortin Highway, the Children’s Hospital, and the University Campus. And since legislation for campaign financing and procurement is among the biggest unfulfilled promises so far, there will be a flurry of bills laid in Parliament.
And, of course, they will keep wrestling with the behemoth called crime!
Can they manage all this in 15 months? Hardly likely, but they will pull out some stops.
Wait a minute. Who are we talking about? UNC? COP? TOP? NJAC? All of them? We can never know for sure at this point, but our safest bet is UNC and NJAC since both COP and TOP desperately need to separate themselves from the UNC to reintegrate with the communities that gave them seats in 2010 (for, surely, the Partnership has long lost most of its appeal?). But to the extent that the appeal of the Partnership in the face of the Manning madness was a significant factor in the COP and TOP victories, it appears that these outfits will now have to look within themselves for some saving grace.
As matters stand now, the Trinidadian electorate completely rejected the COP in the local government elections, and the Tobagonian electorate did the same to the TOP in the THA elections. As a consequence, the political leadership of both parties is being challenged from within to step aside but is unwilling to do so. So both parties have to not only rebuild and regroup but also to work extremely hard to regain public support. The situation is grim, to say the least, but they have some 15 months to mount repairs.
But I may be wrong in this and, given the bubbles in which the Partnership lives, they might very well stay together and, incredibly, come back to the electorate as a partnership.
And what about the opposition PNM? The Partnership has handed a multitude of issues on a platter to them from practically day one and no doubt will hand a further multitude in our 15 months. The PNM has milked those issues for all they are worth, and they must be priming themselves for an all-out onslaught when the hustings come around.
The trouble is, while that is line with our cultural expectations, it is not the thing that will win over the swing voters. These voters vote on issues, not on tribalism, and the vexed issue of our time is governance: how we can constantly rein in a government after the vote; how we can fix our constitution and our political behavior to govern justly, inclusively, and in pursuance of the agendas of our multiple communities. What the plans are that the PNM have to achieve this, we do not know.
What are their plans to fix the constitution for a meaningful democracy? We do not know. What are their plans to fix procurement, bid rigging, campaign financing? We do not know. What are their plans to bring to heel the nasty phenomenon of government for friends and family on the back of the swing voter? We do not know.
I don’t know that the electorate will want a PNM in power that has not engaged intelligently and consciously with the issues of governance reform after all these troubling, frustrating years. I think it would be an extremely hard sell for them to say, ‘Listen! We are better people than them. We are more moral and less extremist.’ The partnership told us that, and look at the mess government is in four years later, morality- and integrity-wise!
But the PNM too has 15 months, and I would like to think that they will use the time to develop plans for new governance structures designed to broaden and improve our democracy—structures that, if they exist, lie buried in an unavailing PNM privacy.
But, as I said earlier, the electorate will have a say on that.