Sunday, October 27, 2013

Elections or reginations? - the Peter O'Connor commentary

The cries for the government to call a general election in the face of successive defeats are mounting. But I do not see this happening, for it holds absolutely no benefit for the Peoples Partnership, or for any of the Partners in the Partnership. 

Indeed I see absolutely no benefit for the country in calling a general election before the constitutionally due election in mid 2015. Will that give us better governance?

The Partnership, under Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has lost the Tobago House of Assembly election, where TOP failed, the Chaguanas West bye-election, where the UNC failed and the Local Government Elections, where UNC lost ground and COP failed. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that they will lose the coming St. Joseph bye election.

The government still has, even without St. Joseph, a safe majority in parliament, for surely neither TOP, COP nor Errol McLeod will withdraw their support. None of them can withdraw their support and stay in the house as “independents” as had happened in the past. 

While they might hedge on the claim that they are not truly “members” of the Prime Minister’s Party, the moral pressure on them to seek validation from the electorate will effectively end their political careers. So, I foresee no defections from the government by any of its non-UNC members, notwithstanding calls by some COP non parliamentarians to pull out.

So, calling a snap general election, just to lose it, is not an option. Actually, because Kamla simply does not have the political power nor strength to make that decision on her own, as Manning had, there will be no early election.

Snap elections are recent events in T&T, beginning in 1995, when Manning called one to shore up his dwindling majority in the House. He lost and he did not resign as PNM Leader. In 2001, Basdeo Panday was forced to call a snap election early in his second term because Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and others quit the Party, but of course not their seats.

That 2001 election ended with the infamous tie, and President ANR Robinson, who hated Manning less than Panday at the time, awarded the government to the PNM. But with parliament “tied up”, no Speaker could be elected, so Manning “governed” via cabinet for a year before he called the 2002 election, which aided by the rising price of oil, he eked out a small majority, which he increased in the 2007 election.

Fallouts in the Opposition UNC saw the founding of the Congress of the People in 2006, and the COP was an important factor in the 2007 elections—votes wise, but like the ONR in 1981 they won no seats.

A rampant Manning, building wasteful edifices without improving water supply, health care or basic infrastructure, all the while sponsoring violent crime and enriching his faithful, squandered his governance. 

He had fallen out with Rowley over Calder Hart, and with a Vote of Confidence coming, he announced the dissolution of Parliament and called new elections in 2010. Caught unawares, a divided UNC (Kamla, under Jack’s tutelage had just deposed Panday as Political Leader) hurried to join forces with a rising COP, TOP from Tobago, NJAC and the MSJ and formed the Peoples’ Partnership, a loose amalgam of entities which had little in common. But they swept the election thanks more to the voters desire to throw out the PNM than to any genuine appeal of the PP.

The fabric of the Partnership began to unravel soon after taking office, leading eventually to the recent losses and bringing us to where we are today; the government in stupor-like denial about their status, and the PNM calling for a general election.

But who must accept the responsibility for all the electoral losses, and what should they do? Clearly, in any other country, the leader of the losing party would resign as party leader. But that, we all know, does not apply here. Manning did not in 1995 (he was chased out in 2010!), Panday never did, nor even did Lloyd Best in 1976 and 1981, and Ashworth Jack did not earlier this year after the THA elections.

Clearly, Kamla and Prakash Ramadhar should submit their resignations to the UNC and COP respectively, and if other Leaders could be found one of them would become Prime Minister. 

But that is not as simple as it sounds, because we have no Leaders—not in the UNC, the COP, nor indeed in the PNM. So the current office holders will not resign, partly because we in T&T do not do that, and partly because there is no one to seriously challenge them for the leadership. Just consider, after Manning we got Rowley, after Panday—Kamla, and after Dookeran-- Prakash.

You want elections? Wait until 2015. Resignations? Wait forever!

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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