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Surviving the uproar
In contradiction to the widespread view that circulated last week that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bis-sessar was about to dismiss the lead-er of the Congress of the People, Prakash Ramadhar, and to do so from a position of strength as PM and political leader of coalition majority party, the United National Congress, the emergency Cabinet meeting turned out to be another attempt to prevent the People’s Partnership from fragmenting.
The reality remains that any attempt to discipline Ramadhar or any of the leaders in the coalition will weaken the Government and impact on its credibility, even to the point of risking a collapse in government. As demonstrated in our short but rich political history, full of lessons in politics, a government can collapse but remain in office.
The National Alliance for Reconstruction did when Basdeo Panday and company were fired; as Prime Minister, Panday was forced to call an election after one year in office when he fired Ramesh Maharaj and company. Even though he still controlled the single majority of the seats, Panday realised there was danger including the possibility of a parliamentary coup that was said to be in the making between Maharaj and Manning.
While the numbers in the present Parliament would still leave the majority party in control, increased pressure from the opposition benches could make life difficult for a UNC government to survive the constitutional term of office. The Prime Minister therefore had to play a restraining rather than a “powerful-stupid” hand and resisted any “basket” she may have been given to fire Prakash and put the COP firmly in its place.
As a close-up witness to the unravelling of a UNC government, the surrender of Manning in 1995 and 2010, Persad-Bissessar understands that she has to be very wary of taking precipitate action, although she has the power, lest she finds herself in charge of a government stymied by a lack of legitimacy.
But Persad-Bissessar is not the only one fighting a battle of political survival. Ramadhar is in a political vice between adhering to the “new politics” of principle set down by the founders of the COP or succumbing to the “politics that has its own morality,” the blueprint for raw politics set down by former UNC leader Panday, a politics that is being adhered to in the present.
Specifically, Ramadhar finds it difficult to digest the overnight somersault on the Caribbean Court of Jus- tice when only yesterday the UNC was so definitively against it because of alleged incapacity of Caribbean jurists and because, too, the PP had pledged in its election manifesto that people must have their say in a referendum before the Privy Council is abandoned.
In the circumstances Ramadhar is stuck between those in the COP holding fast to the principle of “new politics” and those in the party who consider themselves realists and pragmatic about remaining in government. In such a position Ramadhar is probably finding it difficult to recognise whatever may be his own political instincts and ambitions.
Ramadhar however seems determined to hold to the position on a referendum on the CCJ. He is doing so notwithstanding his own acceptance of the agreed position on “collective Cabinet responsibility.” Is Ramadhar’s insistence on the referendum because the decision to move to the CCJ is one that was not discussed and sanctioned by the Cabinet but rather decided by the Prime Minister and her inner Cabinet?
We will have to await the outcome of that matter for when the CCJ draft is put formally before the Cabinet. In equally difficult positions are the leaders of the Movement for Social Justice and the Tobago Organisation of the People. Behind David Abdulah is president general of the OWTU, Ancel Roget, making his views known that the union will not remain in the MSJ beyond May 24.
Abdulah must also be hearing loudly the voices of his comrades in the labour movement, agitated and bristling to teach the PP Government a lesson. With the THA elections in the offing, Ashworth Jack is fearful of losing the support of the Government in the campaign; yet he must feel uncomfortable as he gets his own political lesson that agreements brokered in good faith fall victim to political expediency.
Jack, for instance, must be contemplating how he would be able to face the Tobago electorate if his promises of today on constitutional reform become hostage to whatever becomes politically correct the day after a THA election. As is well known, Tobago people are serious, almost religious, on such matters and are likely to close political ranks and demand their pound of flesh if deceived. So Jack too is in a tight pants, even as he shows total loyalty to his dear Prime Minister.
Perhaps the most comfortable is the leader of the National Joint Action Committee. After 40 years in the political and economic wilderness, NJAC is obviously enjoying its time close to the seat of power. For all of the leaders, ceding the government and positions of authority and privilege is giving them nightmares.
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