Thursday, April 8, 2010


It has finally happened. With the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago now officially dissolved and general elections called for 35 days from now, it is a good idea to take a step back and look quite coolly and dispassionately at “the state of play” as it exists today. You didn't think I was unprepared for this event, did you?
Remember always that a week is certainly a very long time in politics, and now that Prime Minister Patrick Manning has called the election we will have five long weeks of campaigning before the country makes up its mind. So, without further ado let’s take a look at the three main players:

The Congress of the People
The COP’s greatest (and probably its only) strength is its management capability. Inside the Party are a number of capable and competent managers who do have a recognised ability to get things done. Unfortunately, the COP’s biggest weakness is that it is top heavy on management but is without a single salesman to sell the Party’s brand. The sad truth is that there is nobody in the front line who could sell a hot stove to an Eskimo on a cold winter’s night.
The COP top brass project a certain arrogance (whether intentional or not) that tends to turn off the masses. COP also has the problem that a large percentage of the people who voted for the Party in the 2007 general elections have now migrated back to the UNC now that Kamla has taken over the leadership of that Party. How many exactly? Well, that’s difficult to say without the benefit of a poll … but I think that it is safe to say that the number is significant. Put another way, the COP’s ability to damage the UNC in the coming polls will not be like it was before … unless, of course, something happens. And in this country you can never rule that out!
But the COP remains with the very unpleasant truth that it cannot win a seat. The most that the Party can hope to do is to act as a spoiler if it doesn’t get what it wants in the unity talks with the UNC… and even that is doubtful today. And finally, the COP is flat broke without any real ability to raise money. And elections are very expensive things!

The United National Congress
The UNC approaches the coming polls with a fair number of obvious strengths under its belt. Probably its most visible asset right now is its leader Kamla Persad Bissessar. Kamla has been a breath of fresh air not only to the UNC’s politics, but also in the poliyics of the country. She has become the media’s darling and is enjoying quite a little honeymoon with the Press. She is bright, articulate, and does not wear her femininity as a weapon, but is not afraid to be a woman. The truth is that the coming election is hers to lose.
In addition, the UNC has a solid base of fifteen seats and an organisation that can perform in the six marginals. (Remember that the magic number is twenty-one!) The Party’s electoral strength is solid and has been enhanced with the defections from the COP. It will be a formidable contender when the election bell is rung. Further, money should not be a problem for Kamla. Even if she did not have Jack Warner of ‘deep pockets’ fame by her side, she has enough wealthy backers that she ought to be able to more than raise the necessary funding to run this election campaign.
Jack Warner is also a formidable asset for the Party. Apart from having apparently limitless funds, he has proven himself to be a shrewd and capable politician who does not lose a battle … or at least not easily. He clearly has great organisational skills and is not somebody to be taken lightly at all.
But the UNC’s obvious strengths are also masking some rather serious weaknesses. The biggest danger for the UNC comes from within: what can be loosely termed ‘the Panday factor’. Kamla has several dissident sitting M.P.’s that she must deal with: There is the old Bas’ himself, his daughter Mikela, his brother Subash, Kelvin Ramnath and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. In addition she has to keep a wary eye on the St. Augustine M.P. Vassant Bharath who didn’t exactly embrace her after her victory over Panday in January.
The danger here is that if she allows them to go back as M.P.’s and she wins the elections this group or clique could pull her down as Ramesh et al did to her predecessor in 2001. It is unlikely that the UNC will win more than twenty-one to twenty-two seats. She will have to rely on their support if she wins. But, if she doesn’t allow them to go back she will have to face the rather obvious manoeuvrings that one or all of this group might engage in. Already, her deputy political leader Suruj Rambachan has made what could be a potentially damaging political error in saying that he is going up as a candidate in Panday’s seat of Couva North.
Why do I say this? Because Basdeo Panday still has support. What if (for example) he were to have, say, five hundred supporters turn up at Rienzi Complex when screening is being conducted for Couva North, and these supporters are there basically to boo Rambachan and cheer Panday? How will the ensuing debacle play on the evening television news and the next day’s papers? What if the others (Ramnath, Maharaj, etc.) also do something like this? In other words, Kamla has to have a plan in place to deal with these very possible exigencies. Failure to do so could present an image to the country of weak leadership.

The People’s National Movement
The PNM’s greatest strength is its formidable organisation. No other Party in Trinidad & Tobago is as organised as is the PNM. This organisation extends down to a fundamental understanding of its supporters and how best to ensure that they turn out to vote. Do not discount this ability!
The PNM also comes to the electorate with a fairly solid base of at least fifteen seats and with strong organisational skills already in place in the six marginal seats … and make no mistake about it: this election will be won and lost in the six marginals. The rest of us could almost stay home. The PNM also has deep pockets and ought to have a fairly strong war chest for this occasion. Further, the PNM does have enough financial support to replenish its coffers and ensure that there is enough for the coming battle.
But the PNM also has some rather glaring weaknesses. The obvious ones are what has been dominating the news for the last year or so: Calder Hart, UDECOTT, the new Revenue Authority, the Property Tax, etc. All of these can probably be summed up by the phrase ‘the PNM’s track record’. The PNM also has only one salesman … Patrick Manning … to carry its banner high into battle. Manning has “killed” Rowley and despite all the rumblings that we are hearing, it would be absolutely earth shattering if Keith Rowley was a PNM candidate in the next election.
The lack of a team of salesmen to carry the flag will tell in the campaign. With the exception of Colm Imbert, none of the present front liners have the ability to sway a crowd. Look for a rather lacklustre PNM performance on the hustings. The corruption bogey will also haunt the PNM on the campaign trail.
And finally, the media is fairly set against the Party. While the daily newspapers pretend to be balanced, the truth is that you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that they would like to see Manning go down.

So, where does this all leave us? Waiting and wondering. At the moment, my prediction is that the fight will be remarkably close and will go down to the wire. Is that prediction cast in stone? Not at all! I don’t pretend to be an oracle, and I reserve the right to change my mind when things change or new matters come to light. Having said all that, if I had to bet with you today I would bet a dollar to a doughnut on Kamla.
We will decide afterward who will pay the dollar and who will pay the doughnut.


  1. There should be a 'guide to good voting' - I'm hearing a lot of fanatical stuff being touted about. (no reflection on this blog).
    But when you get behind that stack of tables in the school auditorium or class room to stamp the pad with three to four symbols that's where the guide should say vote 'A' of you want this and 'B' if you want that... just saying.

  2. I think that this blog is a pretty good guide. It has certainly explained a lot to me! Thanks, Robin.