Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Commentary: St Joseph election is no victory for politicians

We congratulate Terrence Deyalsingh and the People's National Movement (PNM) on the victory in Monday's byection in St Joseph.

Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, as expected, seized the opportunity to call for a general election, saying that the government of Kamla Persad-Bissessar had failed the country and no longer has the moral authority to continue to govern.

However, the performance of the PNM did not demonstrate any surge in support and was certainly no cause for dancing in the streets for the party. Yes, the PNM won but it was its worst showing of support in an election in St Joseph. 

Not all the people of St Joseph who believed in the PNM before 2013 maintained their trust in the party. The final figure for the PNM Monday was 6,356 and the UNC 5,577. By contrast the PNM's worst showing before Monday's election was in 2001 when it polled 6,793 votes, which suggests that it fell lower than it was 12 years ago. 

The United National Congress (UNC) should not be celebrating as well. It failed to get the strong support it had in previous elections, especially in 2010 when it won more than 10,000 votes, some of which came from its coalition partner, the Congress of the People (COP).

The ray of hope for the UNC is that while it did not win and it did not get back thousands of votes that it attracted just over three years ago the votes did not go to the PNM. It suggests that many of its supporters are angry, but not angry enough to walk away and knock on another political door.

The hope for the UNC is that there is now an opportunity to correct whatever is wrong and to get to work quickly to fix the problem. 

Kamla sent a clear signal Monday night that she would put politics aside and continue to serve the people regardless of political considerations. At the same time she served notice on the new PNM MP for St Joseph that he is sitting in that seat temporarily and that she is coming back in 2015 to retake St Joseph for the UNC. 

How she goes about preparing for 2015 is critically important. While her party reminded its supporters that Jack Warner and the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) caused the UNC's loss, it is not something that it could continue to market.

The counter argument to that is that the ILP attracted some UNC supporters because for those voters, the ILP represents hope for something better. The challenge for the UNC, therefore, is not to blame Jack and the ILP but to encourage those who left to come back home based on valid reasons for supporting the UNC again.

On Monday the ILP won 1976 votes. Jack commented that the election campaign solidified the base of the traditional parties - the UNC and the PNM. But the vote count contradicts that. And the figures also show that the ILP's initial surge is declining.

Whether the party continues to be a force or gets into the country's political footnote depends on its strategies from here on. So far, elections have kept the ILP busy and it has been unable to ratify the constitution that it says it has written. And none of its executive members has been elected by the membership. So that is its first order of business.

The second issue is that it must demonstrate that it has something to offer that is signficantly different from what the PNM and UNC are offering. 

Monday's election showed that none of the parties won the confidence of the floating voter; the ILP's 1976 votes clearly came from the People's Partnership. There remains a constituency that is searching for a political home and if you judge from Monday's election, they are not willing to reside within any of the ones available.

That is the really challenge for all political parties as they focus on 2015.

The PNM would continue its mantra that the government has lost its moral authority to govern and that it should call an election. But it is yet to tell the people why they must change what they have and reinstate a party that the current PNM leader has himself labelled the most corrupt ever. 

The UNC must assess what has gone wrong and take immedidte action to deal with its problems. Cosmetic changes won't convince voters that they should give the party another mandate.

The UNC must also address the dilemma of whether it will stand alone or continue its expermient in participatory democracy and keep the partnership alive. In reality the PP appears to be a mirage since the COP performance in the local election suggests that it has lost most of its support on the ground. The other members - NJAC and the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) - do not have a national profile and will not be signficant players on their own in 2015.

And the ILP must show people what is so different that they must gravitate to it. Jack keeps saying that the vision he had in the UNC has not changed and that it is the UNC that has changed. The message from the UNC heartland is that it still believes in the party so Jack needs a new focus if it wants to truly be a part of the political game in 2015.

The real story from Monday night is that while the PNM got a new seat in parliament none of the parties in the race for St Joseph really won and neither did the people.

Jai Parasram - 05 November 2013

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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