Friday, December 11, 2009

THE UNC INTERNAL ELECTIONS – More Important Than You May Think!

The UNC internal elections are attracting an understandable amount of attention. The UNC is after all the official opposition Party and, some might argue, the only realistic alternative to the ruling PNM. I use the word “realistic” deliberately and in the political sense in that I honestly don’t believe that given its present configuration that the Congress of the People can attract enough voters to win a single seat. Of course, a week in politics (to quote former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson) is a long time and I suppose that the boys and girls in the COP are hoping that something might happen to change their political fortunes, but frankly, I wouldn’t hold my breath. The COP has been unable to attract any new voters to its cause, and looks as if it has in fact lost quite a few who voted for it in the last elections.

In any case, I don’t think that a lot of people realise that despite the COP’s intervention in the last election the UNC came remarkably close to winning it outright! Something like 9,000 votes separated the UNC from a victory at the polls in the last election. Surprised? Take a look at the difference between the UNC votes and the PNM votes in six marginal constituencies (St. Joseph, Tunapuna, San Fernando West, Chaguanas East, Barataria/San Juan and Pointe-a-Pierre) and add them up. The total difference between the 2 parties comes to about 9,000 votes. Now, if you take, say, half the COP votes in each constituency and “give” them to the UNC you will begin to understand the dynamics and electoral strategies of the various UNC players from Panday to Ramesh and back through Kamla. If you had added half of the COP votes in these constituencies to the UNC’s votes in the last elections we would have had a UNC government with 21 seats to the PNM’s 20! That is one of the reasons that Panday is so bitter towards Dookeran. Panday’s argument that Dookeran’s intervention cost the UNC the election is not without some justification.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what the Corridor thinks of Panday or whether the people in the “PNM till ah dead” strongholds believe that he is the worst thing in the world. The truth is that the UNC can reasonably count on 15 seats in every election; the PNM on 20. The real battle is in the six marginals. They represent the difference between ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’; government or opposition.

That is why Mr. Panday defies his critics who all say that he is past it, too tainted to continue, and not acceptable to the country. He knows that they are wrong. He knows that all he has to do is hold his base and win back some of the voters who deserted him for Dookeran in the last election. Of course, the key is in the phrase “he has to hold his base…”. But there is a very real chance that he will be able to do so (i.e. hold the base together) in the next elections if he wins in January. And if he can hold his base together his chances of being able to grab the “missing” 9,000 odd votes is pretty good, or put it this way, quite possible (as opposed to probable). So, don’t write off the old man yet!

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Ramesh is mounting what he hopes will be a strong challenge. Ramesh incidentally also understands the electoral maths and therefore is not as concerned as one might expect as to his general country wide acceptance or lack of it. And, of course, there is Kamla. She is due to give a press conference tomorrow in which it is widely expected that she will declare her candidacy for leadership of the Party. What has been interesting to see is the number of callers on the call-in radio shows in the last few days who have been suggesting that they “know” that she is not going to run after all. She appears to have a lot of support and if the “jungle drums” are any indication she might even beat out Mr. Panday. Well, we’ll see soon enough, won’t we!

And finally, there is the ubiquitous Jack Warner. Although both he and Ramesh are denying that there is a split their respective words and actions certainly seem to contradict this. What happened between them? Nobody seems to know, but clearly they aren’t as close as they were before. Now, I do have a question: what does Jack want? Does he want to be “kingmaker” or does he want to be “king”. His words suggest that he wants only to be the “kingmaker” but his actions seem to suggest that what he really wants is to be “king”.

As you will appreciate, all of this is important. The United National Congress is the only (at this time) credible political Party that has a chance of resting the government from Manning’s grasp. The truth is that if the Party were able to get its act together that chance could easily become a real chance. But, as I said earlier, a week in politics is a long time and the truth is that there are many, many numbers still to play in the game before the next general elections. The message today is simply, pay attention. The UNC is more relevant than you might think!


  1. Thanks for the article Robin. Very insightful and raises some important political facts that are easy to ignore - like the electoral prospects when opposition parties fight the government rather than each other. What concerns me here is that the incentive for Mr. Panday in your analysis is to attack COP rather than PNM in the battle for the marginal seats.

    What I think needs to be added here, is that COP - while small - has in fact changed the electoral reality in Trinidad. The introduction of a third party and its ability to attract voters in the marginal seats means, in my opinion, that COP and UNC have to decide if they are content to rest in opposition benches (or no benches, as you rightly point out to be the case for COP) exerting energy fighting one another while the PNM sails off with another majority government.

    I agree that one should never count out the old man - he's been a political scapper longer than I have even been alive. But the old man's opponent in his own riding gathered a shocking amount of votes in the 2007 election - in the heartland of Mr. Panday himself. I believe the people in Trinidad are grossly fed up with the political stalemate. Politicians need to listen to their grassroots - not the elite members of the grassroots who whisper into their ears partisan nonesense that suits their strategic self interest - but the broader messages that require digging, facilitation, and humility to find.

  2. A very interesting piece.
    However it fails to take into account a very important element - time.
    To state the the UNC under Panday is still very relevant betrays an understanding of the political climate as it is TODAY, as against what it used to be back in mid to late 2007. At that time there were so few people who were as disgusted with Panday's leadership that you could almost count them on one or two hands. Also, Panday received a much needed shot in the arm when he went (back) and recruited Ramesh Maharaj. Add to that, Panday had an almost limitless supply of financial backing in the form of Jack Warner. So much so that at a whim they boarded a jet one day and headed for South Africa to try to engage the attention of Nelson Mandela, which of course they failed to do. In all the UNC's meetings, Panday and his red beret clown suit actually seemed to stimulate his meetings. One wonders why he chooses not to come back in his clown suit this rounds - or does one? I will deal with that in a bit. During that same period no one, not a man, dared show up with anti-Panday placards... not without fear of the retribution of the many supporters that would surely have stuck the placard where the rising sun don't shine. No one at any of those meetings were so disappointed that they would stand and demand that Panday step down, or worse, challenge Panday to take a snap poll among those present.

    That was then.

    Now we are seeing something that is completely different. People are openly defying Panday, and the general feeling is that it is more than just something that trickled down from watching Panday's key MPs openly defy him. People are bloody fed-up. And why not? Defeat after defeat after defeat after defeat. Each of which sees the population saddled with Patrick Manning. The choice seems to be no choice at all. The UNC itself is left with one of two choices - try something new, or go with the same thing hoping for a different result... The very DEFINITION of utter lunacy. This fact is not lost on key movers within the party, hence part of the reason for their decision to swear allegiance TO THE PARTY rather than to the same proven failed leader. The other part may probably include an element of ambition or sheer lust for power by some.
    The Dookeran factor in all this does little to change the way people inside the UNC are viewing Panday. Few will argue that supporters once saw Panday as their saviour, but now, he is just seen as someone who will cling on to power until he dies, all at the expense of the party's fortunes and by extension, the country's, at the elections. Many are slowly coming around to understanding that Panday is not running an entity that is seeking to provide better governance, rather that he is running some kind of club that does not have to explain its actions to "outsiders" despite the fact that these same "outsiders" are whom Panday will be going all out for in an effort to secure the government - the simple rule applies: Die-hards win elections for NO ONE.

    Given the drastic change in fortunes and support for Basdeo Panday between 2007 and now, I cannot subscribe to your interpretation. Even the truth that a week is a long time in politics and that anything is possible does very little to change the constant that change itself is. Once-vocal supporters are seeing Panday for what he is. Pandora's box has been opened and Basdeo Panday, with all the criminal charges hanging over his head, cannot do a thing to close it. The stakes are far too high now. Panday is going to get very serious, no more of that idiotic red beret clown suit nonsense. He cannot afford the have "his party" snatched from under him. His legacy with come to an embarrassingly crashing end.

    We are no longer in anything resembling 2007. People are just too fed-up.

  3. If, as you write, "the real battle is in the six marginals," then it does, contrary to what you also wrote, "matter what the Corridor thinks of Panday" since three of those very same critical marginal seats you have identified are in the Corridor. As long as Panday is at the head, UNC will be stuck at 18 seats. I just find it astonishing that UNC this. My solution: offer Bas the presidency in return for stepping aside as party leader.

  4. Don't you think that the PNM is also aware of the points you all made here and are working to change the dynamics on the ground? Nevertheless, I think only NEW leadership of the country is the only option for a turnaround of the country. Down with Patrick, down with Bas, down with Ramesh, down with Jack, down with Kamala and down with the rest of the old tired selfish crooks.
    We want and need TRUE patriots.

  5. Rag , gaining 9,000 votes and getting 6 seats is not the same , my friend . We are dealing with 1st pass the post and not propotional representation . So the UNC could have gotten 9,000 votes from the 6 constituencies that you mentioned without winning the 6 seats .
    What was the results in Couva North , Panday was re-elected but with a significantly reduced majority .
    Mrs. Persad-Bissessar is the best person to unite COP and the UNC because she is working with Dookeran and Jack is also working with Dookeran and supporting Kayla (Kamla) .
    Ramesh fought for change and now he is saying that he or Panday must lead the UNC or it will die . Well from the look of things , he nor Panday is going to win the race for political leader of the UNC . Jack Warner is going to mount a massive campaign for Persad-Bissessar as political leader and himself as chairman of the UNC .
    Finally , Panday is on bail and he maybe sentenced to prison , again . In addition , Panday's political shelf life has expired and he is no longer seen as a future Prime Minister of T&T .

    Wiggins-Barbados .

  6. A couple of points to note:
    1. If the UNC and COP votes are added, they would have still lost to the PNM in Tunapuna so you are WRONG in saying the UNC could have won 21-20.
    2. In general, persons who voted for the COP have a serious problem with Panday and are very unlikely to vote for him EVER. I am one of those people and I will NEVER vote for Basdeo Panday in my life.

  7. Your blog failed to mention the total dislike of Panday today by a large majority of the population.

  8. Mr. Montano,

    In order to retain your credibility as a political commentator, I think it's neccessary for you to substaintiate your 21-20 PNM loss scenario using valid election results.

    Currently, I'm having some trouble validating what you say and I trust that your math was not falsified to cater to the pro-UNC tone of the blog. It's reasonable if you made an error. We do that. We're human after all. However, I think it might be wise to substantiate your claims especially since many of us get a different results when using figures we know to be valid.

  9. Barataria/San Juan PNM-7,179 UNCA-5,358 COP-3,917
    Chaguanas East PNM-6,757 UNCA-4,993 COP-4,086
    Point-a-Pierre PNM-7,427 UNCA-6,136 COP-3,740
    Prices Town South/Tableland PNM-8,929 UNCA-7,908 COP-1,437
    St. Joseph PNM-7,965 UNCA-4,945 COP-4,145

    I could see PNM losing 5 seats but that would make it PNM 21-20 to still win the Government.

    Now in San Fernando West, the results was:
    San Fernando West PNM-7,371 UNCA-2,306 COP-4,951

    Suppose the UNC votes went over to the COP and the COP got a little more votes and won it then the results would have been 20-20-1

    I wonder what would be the decision COP would have taken?



  10. ----------------------------
    Bara/SanJ| 7,179|5,358|3,917
    Chag East| 6,757|4,993|4,086
    Point-a-P| 7,427|6,136|3,740
    P/ Town S| 8,929|7,908|1,437
    St.Joseph| 7,965|4,945|4,145
    San Fdo W| 7,371|2,306|4,951

  11. Thanks for those statistics Slider.

    It would be really interesting to see what would happen if the results were actually 20-20-1

  12. Lots of vitrolic statements being made in this present internal elections against Kamla by Bas's Camp.

    So far Kamla has held her own with dignity. Ramesh seems to be conceeding already. This is a 2 horse race between Kamla and Bas now.



  14. does anyone know the results of the elections

  15. Kamla's slate made a clean sweep with over 80% of the votes.

    Jack is Chairman.


  16. Roodal Moonielal was the only person outside of the KamJack arrangement to win a position.

    He is one of the deputy political leaders - the others are Lyndera Oudit and Suruj Rambachan.