Sunday, December 9, 2012

Guest column: Political re-routing - by Dr Hamid Ghany

Kublalsingh and friends outside the office of the PM
While the hunger strike of Dr Wayne Kublalsingh was taking place outside the Prime Minister’s Office, there were political undercurrents swirling around the political lagoon that saw the prospect for fundamental changes to take place. 

The PNM entered a new phase of its history as it amended its constitution to allow the one person-one vote system into its fold for the election of its executive officers.

In doing this, it reduced the term of office of the political leader from five to four years and increased the term of office of the executive members who were elected in October from one to two years.

The effect of this is to require the current political leader, Dr Keith Rowley, as well as the current executive to face an internal election within the party in 2014. This will mean that the rebuilding work being undertaken by the current leadership will be tested at the PNM polls before the general election of 2015.

If there are any challengers to Dr Rowley in 2014, the party will either go forward with him as the leader or someone else depending upon the choice of the PNM electorate.

The virtual unanimous support for these changes suggests that either the incumbent executive did a good job of convincing party delegates to the special convention to vote for these reforms, or likely political competitors wanted to give themselves a chance to challenge for control of the executive before the next general election is due.

Dr Rowley and Chairman Khan were very upbeat about these reforms as they genuinely feel that the party will be energised by them. The major issue to be addressed in this crossover from the delegate system to the one person-one vote system is the ability of the party to manage possible divisiveness in the aftermath of these elections.

On this front, a party that has had mixed fortunes with the one person-one vote system, namely the UNC, has found itself becoming more energised and unified than ever in the aftermath of its internal elections earlier this year. 

The 2001 and 2005 internal elections in the UNC were divisive. In 2001, the rift between Ramesh Maharaj and Basdeo Panday turned into a major fracture in the party which led to its loss of office soon after.

In 2005, the decision by Basdeo Panday to pass the political leadership to Winston Dookeran while accepting the post of Chairman led to a rift between the two that ended up with Dookeran resigning as political leader of the UNC and forming the Congress of the People (COP) in 2006.

The advent of Kamla Persad-Bissessar as political leader of the UNC in the 2010 internal elections ushered in a period of unity for the UNC that was carried forward to the internal elections this year. 

However, this unity was emboldened as an unintended by-product of the media coverage of the Kublalsingh hunger strike in Port-of-Spain. The UNC has now become energised, mobilised and further unified as a direct result of the hunger strike.

A party congress was held last weekend, the Monday Night Forums were resumed, and the mobilising drums of electoral war have been sounded. The party has printed thousands of placards with the message “We Are One” being displayed by supporters at all party events.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has recognised that she has paid a lot of attention to the People’s Partnership as opposed to her own party in the interest of maintaining unity in the partnership. 

A new strategy has now emerged. Meanwhile, their partnership coalition partner, the COP, decided to focus on the issues of the hunger strike and entered into philosophical discussions about compassion and compromise.

This approach allowed the UNC to emerge with an image of being the only party that cares for the people of the southwest peninsula on the highway issue. 

The COP will have a lot of work to do to convince voters from San Fernando to Point Fortin that their overt support for the Highway Re-Route Movement and the hunger strike of Dr Kublalsingh has been in the best interests of the people in this part of the country.

The PNM has had to walk a political tightrope on this issue as it was originally their project and they have large numbers of supporters in La Brea and Point Fortin who will obviously benefit from all segments of the highway.

The PNM want the highway to be built, but any delays on the project will suit their political agenda as they would prefer to try to return to power and complete it as opposed to having the People’s Partnership face the electorate in 2015 with this brand new highway as a project of their own. 

The JCC and other civil society groups emerged as the honest brokers to resolve the controversies surrounding the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway. 

This intervention allowed the Government to negotiate a way forward that allowed them to maintain their contractual obligations, while permitting the JCC the opportunity to evaluate a contentious portion of the project.

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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