Witnessing the death throes of a party
I certainly did not expect to use increasingly precious space to write, for the second week in a row, on matters pertaining to the COP. My readers would know that I have long ago written off that party as having little relevance or significance in the politics of the country.
As it turns out, the events which unfolded in that party last week simply cannot be ignored since they present to us some truly priceless teachable moments about the mindless, sometimes violent, turbulence which afflicts dying political parties.
These developments, in no particular chronological sequence, were as follows. First we had the “founding father” of the party, Winston Dookeran, rejecting all appeals for him to contest the post of “Political Leader” in the upcoming internal elections.
These appeals, many of which came from serious and senior party members, did not mushroom in a vacuum. They were made to Mr Dookeran both because it was clear that the party was in serious trouble and collapsing in on itself, as well as because Mr Dookeran himself, months ago, had signalled his willingness to return to “set the politics right”.
In the light of these factors, Mr Dookeran’s rejection of the appeals to return as leader was not only an act of political cowardice and political betrayal, but the fact that he went further and endorsed one of the candidates for the position was an act of sheer political sabotage which has set the stage for a level of internecine warfare from which the party will never recover.
This brings us to the second development which arises directly out of the first. As soon as the news spread that Mr Dookeran was not contesting, we had the spectacle of three more candidates, in addition to Prakash Ramadhar, throwing their hats into the ring.
Even more important than the number of candidates is who these candidates are. Mr Ramadhar, the incumbent, is challenged by Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, the current party chairman, and by Lincoln Douglas, the current deputy political leader.
In other words the entire top leadership of the party is currently locked in a battle with each other. If this is not the clearest sign of a party gorging on its own innards I do not know what is. Consider that no matter who wins the election, the next leader will not be able to count on the support of, or to trust, some of the most senior people in the party.
But we need to recognise something of even greater significance. While Mrs Seepersad-Bachan and Mr Douglas both criticise the leadership of Prakash Ramadhar, (the fourth candidate, Rufus Foster, the Draughts and Checkers man, to his credit criticises all three of them) neither of them is prepared to acknowledge that Mr Ramadhar’s leadership woes, in large degree, stem from the place occupied by the party in the ruling coalition.
All of them (except Mr Foster) take it for granted that the party will remain in the coalition but none of them has yet elaborated any plan or strategy for rescuing the party from being an impotent appendix to the UNC. It is as if they are incapable of seeing that the steady disintegration of their party over the last three years is directly attributable to the fact that, within the coalition, they have repeatedly sacrificed principle, ethics and integrity in exchange for their toehold in office.
But the party once had men and women of courage and integrity. In this context it is no surprise that Robert Mayers and Vernon de Lima have finally formalised their estrangement from the party. I say formalised because for a long time now neither has been active in the party.
But for them too, and the many more party supporters like them, there is a lesson to be learnt from what is happening. It is instructive that the development which finally drove them to sever their ties with the party was Mr Dookeran’s refusal to run again for the political leader position.
But the lesson for Mr Mayers, Mr De Lima and others is that the fault does not lie in Mr Dookeran but in themselves. Mr Dookeran is what he is and what he has always been—a man in love with sailor mas but deathly afraid of powder.
Leadership in politics is about vision and the integrity to stand publicly, openly and against all odds, for what you believe is true and just and right.