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The major issues of the unc elections
Does the challenge by Basdeo Panday through his Generation Next to the UNC’s political leader’s hold on power, and the obvious intention by those in the hierarchy of the United National Congress to rid themselves of Jack Warner, now that he is perceived as a liability to party and government, have the possibility to once again turn the UNC in on itself?
Internal elections of the UNC and their aftermath have always been exciting political happenings. However, they have often resulted in turmoil in the party. Indeed, on a few occasions after elections there was serious fracturing of the party, even the eventual loss of Government by the UNC.
The implosions go back to the outcome of the first internal elections when elected chairman Rampersad Parasram and general secretary Kelvin Ramnath had the executive scuttled from under their feet. The conflict involving the Ramesh Maharaj team left serious political blood on the floor, the UNC being eventually removed from power when Prime Minister Panday was forced to call fresh elections after only one year in office and the fear of a palace (parliamentary) coup by Maharaj and Manning.
Then there was Winston Dookeran installed as political leader with the blessings of Bas, but soon becoming a casualty of his sponsor. Eventually Bas retrieved his political leader position. However, as he was to mourn, the creation of the Congress of the People by Dookeran split the vote and defeated the UNC.
Concentrated political guerilla warfare by Warner and Maharaj forced Panday into a fight against Persad-Bissessar. It was an historic event as Panday was crushed by someone he considered a political neophyte incapable of ever taking him on. The old warrior was deposited in the political cemetery in an unmarked grave never to be heard of again; or at least so it was thought.
Perhaps not with the same fanfare and dynamism of Lazarus, Basdeo Panday has returned with his Generation Next to attempt to effectively retake control of what he must still consider “my party.” At minimum, he would want to play the spoiler’s role by tarnishing her image and removing a coat or two of the gloss off Kamla.
While UNC as a party hardly matters in Government and governance, Panday must have calculated that if he is able to undercut political leader Persad-Bissessar, it would salve still-open political wounds after the drubbing he received from her. Panday is a past- master at the art of promoting conflict; he will surely not hesitate to attempt to do so again. In fact it is probably his overriding objective to dislodge Persad-Bissessar from the prime ministerial chair that is exciting the “Silver Fox.”
Political mauvais langue has it that Persad-Bissessar still hears the sound of her former leader’s footsteps behind her even though they are growing faint and less threatening with the passage of time. Those close to the party have said that while Panday still commands a measure of respect and love within the UNC, there is little chance of the Generation Next candidates winning seats in the party executive. But Panday has already catered for the young team being squandered in the election by raising the issue of rigged elections.
In this way Panday hopes to undermine the credibility of those elected and their sponsors, including the political leader. Fortuitously or otherwise, the non-appearance of his daughter’s name on the voting list has added a measure of credibility to Panday’s claims that all is not well with the voting process.
The other major issue of the election is the challenge being posed to incumbent chairman Jack Warner by Ashvani Mahabir. The latter does not stack up well compared to Jack. But he is said to have the blessings of the hierarchy of the party, the party leader included. Jack has made no secret of his view that the party leadership is behind Mahabir.
Sat Maharaj has signalled to the Hindu community that Mahabir is his choice. Not as vocal as Sat but perhaps as convicted about Mahabir as the Maha Sabha boss is Minister Devant Maharaj. Perhaps the political directorate of the UNC conceives of this as a clean, non-self-incriminating way of continuing to cut the ground under the feet of “queen-maker” Jack. If he were to be beaten, the hierarchy will reach for the higher ground of the “people’s will” and trumpet the vaunted “democracy within the UNC at work.”
But in choosing Mahabir instead of one of the political heavyweights, a Moonilal or Ramba-chan, even a Sharma, the political directorate of the UNC and the government is playing it safe. To have thrown one of the above into the fray would have shown the hand of the party leadership oh too plainly. But in choosing political fodder to throw against Jack it is clear that there is a measure of fear of the awesome popularity enjoyed by Warner amongst the rank and file of the UNC.
A victory by Warner against one of the chosen inner Cabinet souls would have effectively been a political assault against the queen; that cannot possibly be risked. That there is such a recognition of the power and legitimacy accrued by an interloper such as Jack Warner is impressive. Is it because of his deep pockets and generous spirit; or perhaps his genuine concern for people and his ability to get things done?
Politics is not always predictable and there may be a “fluke” and Jack is beaten. But surely, given the political character that is Warner, if such a fluke were to occur the hierarchy risks what may be considered an unholy but very possible alliance between Bas and Jack. However, the more likely outcome is a complete defeat of the Panday slate but the hierarchy having to live with Warner.
Whatever the outcome of the polls the issue must be whether the UNC will become a structured and functioning party. As has been demonstrated, Panday demolished every attempt to promote institutional development; that would have diminished his power. The bad news for the coalition People’s Partnership is if the UNC continues to be a party led by a maximum leader, there is little likelihood that the Partnership will grow in coherence as a political organisation.
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