Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Harold Wilson once said that a week was a long time in politics. He made this now famous comment when the opinion polls were showing that his Labour Party’s popularity was extremely low and there was a General Election due in a few months. What he meant, obviously, was that his party’s fortunes could (as the Americans would say) ‘turn around on a dime’ and that they could be back in business before you knew it! Unfortunately for Mr. Wilson even though it is true that political fortunes can change very quickly, they didn’t change quickly enough for him. He lost!
Now, even though there is still almost 2 ½ years to the next General Elections in Trinidad & Tobago, it seems that they are Kamla’s to lose. By that I mean that unless things change, the next Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago will be Kamla Persad Bissessar.
There are many reasons for this. The first reason that one could cite is that there is a mood engulfing most of the western world for change. Trinidad & Tobago is no exception to this desire to see things go in a different way. Then-Senator Barack Obama, who is probably the best example, tapped into this mood in the U.S. most successfully a little over a year ago. Here in good old T&T one gets a distinct feeling from “the ground” that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Manning Regime. The Prime Minister has not helped himself either, and has only increased this desire for change with the way that he defended his Spiritual Adviser/Priest/(or whatever you want to call her) in Parliament. People are asking very serious questions, yet he chose to lash out at just about every other religion in Trinidad & Tobago in a way that was guaranteed to cause (and did in fact cause) great offence. Unsurprisingly, he is getting hit from just about every angle on this issue and his cry of ‘religious persecution’ is falling on stony ground. Nobody is buying it.
On top of that, Mr. Manning is the only “salesman” in his Party. Having systematically decimated all of his leading “salesmen” (Ken Valley, Keith Rowley, etc.) he now finds himself with nobody but himself to carry his message and “sell” his visions to the public. And his senior ministers simply can’t carry the fight. Mariano Browne, for example, presents himself as a most competent individual, and to his credit, there has not been a whisper of corruption attached to his name. But Mr. Browne, competent as he is, is not charismatic and his message is often lost in the dry and uninspiring way in which he talks in public.
Kamla, on the other hand, has presented herself as the agent for change to a country that is growing increasingly fed up with Mr. Manning’s rather autocratic style of leadership. While the Prime Minister continues to present himself as the leader of a Government that is there to rule the people, Kamla is presenting herself as a leader that leads almost from behind … in other words, as a consensus builder. Her style is so dramatically different from that of the old lion (Panday) as well as Mr. Manning’s that even her critics are being won over. And since she became the leader of the UNC she hasn’t made a misstep … yet!
That “yet” is important, for while I said that the next election is Kamla’s to lose, the truth is that there are many pitfalls still ahead of her. The first thing to recognise is that while she has now become the “owner” of the UNC “brand”, that Party is presently broken, broke and in a most disorganised state. The Party machinery hardly exists, and that which does exist is in an extreme state of disrepair. Also (and more importantly), the Party is flat broke. Its coffers are empty. Now, it is true that the indefatigable Jack Warner (of deep pockets fame) is standing by, but way back in 1995 the UNC was accused (with not little justification) of falling into being “owned” by a small handful of financiers. The Party/Kamla will need to avoid falling into that particular trap again. If the perception is allowed to grow that Jack Warner now “owns” Kamla and the UNC, that belief alone (whether it is true or not) could be enough to sink her.

She also has the continuing problem of Basdeo Panday who has refused to exit with any degree of grace. Panday is now setting up (or trying to set up) a classic “triangulation” by saying that he is going onto the back bench and will stay there until Mr. Warner accounts for some $30 million allegedly given to him (Warner) by an unnamed UNC financier. That this accusation against Mr. Warner is patently ridiculous is irrelevant. Mr. Panday knows that some people will believe it and as long as he keeps it up he effectively undermines Mrs. Persad Bissessar even though he ostensibly now says that he accepts her leadership. Watch for him trying to create more trouble along the way.
Then there are M.P.’s like Vassant Bharath whose efforts to be on all sides at the same time are embarrassing, to say the least. The UNC’s constitution gives the leader the right to veto the nomination of any person going up for a seat. What will Mrs. Persad Bissessar do when the time comes for nominations to be made? Will she allow persons like Mr. Bharath to go up in safe seats like St. Augustine knowing that they could bring her down a la Ramesh or will she replace them at the appropriate time?
Then again, Mr. Manning is aware that he is in mid term. He can open the financial sluice gates next year, create a lot of jobs and hope that the apparent prosperity will save him. Will that be enough? Difficult to say at this stage, but a short answer is probably not.
There is a feeling of “fedupness” in the society that needs to be addressed and dealt with. He needs to re-connect with the people and come down from the ivory tower that he is perceived to be in. (Remember, in politics perception is reality). If he doesn’t, then in a little less than 2 ½ years from now you will hear a newscast on the radio begin with the words “Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar said today…”

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