Monday, April 18, 2011

Guest column - the challenges of coalition governments - by Dr Hamid Ghany

As the People’s Partnership Government approaches the end of its first year in office, its members must be reflecting upon some of the challenges that they have faced over the past 11 months in office and over the last 12 months since the famous accord was signed on April 21, at Charlie King Junction in Fyzabad. 

The Parliament was dissolved on April 8 last year in what was designed to be a snap general election that was called by then prime minister Patrick Manning some two and a half years before it was due.

There was no indication that the then Government was preparing for an election as the budget delivered in the September before had none of the traditional relief or inducements that are normally associated with election budgets. 

The controversial property tax legislation was approved by December 31, 2010, and the contentious Revenue Authority Bill was on the verge of passage in the Senate before it died at the stroke of midnight on April 8, 2010, when the proclamation of the dissolution took effect.

The speedy formation of the People’s Partnership in time to face the naming of candidates on Nomination Day on May 3 created a campaign opportunity for the PNM advertising slogans to question the veracity of a coalition government and whether it would last. 

Alongside that was the existence of a rare element of division within the PNM campaign which was exploited by the People’s Partnership to highlight that they were not the only ones with possible divisions within their ranks. 

With the Partnership having addressed the population on changing the psychology of their mission from being a single dominant political party that was seeking to capture all power to becoming a collection of three parties and five entities that was seeking to share power, the game was on. 

The PNM approached the general election with its traditional psychology of being a single party that was seeking to capture all power once more.

Whether the population realised it or not, they had two choices—the hegemonic political party that would stand alone, win alone and lose alone or the partnership that was offering to share power in the interest of a collection of disparate political entities in the society.

The PNM’s psychology has been superimposed ever since it was founded in respect of its clarion call: “Great is the PNM and it shall prevail”. 

There is no mistaking the meaning of this and Patrick Manning made it very clear in the 1995 general election campaign that the PNM will stand alone. ANR Robinson used that to justify why he supported Basdeo Panday to become the prime minister in the famous 17-17-2 outcome to that general election.

That 1995 general election produced a coalition after the fact, whereas the 2010 general election was a pre-arranged coalition. The only party that was capable of winning a majority of seats in the People’s Partnership arrangement was the UNC—and they did. 

In accordance with the charter signed at Charlie King Junction, all parties in the arrangement were offered places at the Cabinet table.

When faced with the prospect of sharing power under the Crowne Plaza Accord in 2001, the PNM only agreed to share legislative power in the Parliament, but not executive power in the Cabinet. The UNC was willing to share both. 

The result was that President ANR Robinson exercised his discretion to remove then prime minister Panday and to replace him with Patrick Manning. That decision caused the UNC to disavow the Crowne Plaza Accord.

The history of coalition government has been uncertain as the UNC/NAR coalition of 1995-2000 did not seek power on a partnership basis in the general elections of 2000 and 2001, but rather became enemies. 

That enmity was cemented in the January 2001 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections where the UNC put up candidates to hurt the NAR which led to the THA returning to PNM control after twenty years.

Today the People’s Partnership has an ally in Tobago in the form of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP). 

The question that is to be asked is whether the Partnership will embrace Tobago more closely than may have been the case before. 

One of the challenges that has emerged is the revival of the old debate about the role of the Central Government in relation to the THA in respect of the formulation and implementation of policy for Tobago. 

This can be more sharply defined as the role of the Ministry of Tobago Development alongside the role to the THA.

In assessing the challenges of the partnership, the big issues for the political culture of Trinidad and Tobago now appear to be whether the population will adjust its psyche to accept the phenomenon of a collection of parties seeking to share power if they capture it. 

Additionally, will the Central Government be viewed in a more positive light in Tobago as a result of the Partnership as opposed to being viewed as a threat to the role of the THA?

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai