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Two Years Of Partnership
As the People’s Partnership (PP) Government moves towards the celebration of its second anniversary this Thursday, there are many who would be surprised that it has lasted that long. This is a new experiment in governance for this country whereby a majority party invites other parties to join it in a coalition as a result of a prearranged agreement.
Unlike other coalitions where power can lie in minorities, this is a coalition in which one of the parties is not a minority party. In respect of political science theory, there are five possible forms of government: (i) single-party majority government, (ii) coalition multi-party majority government, (iii) single-party minority government, (iv) coalition multiparty minority government, and (v) oversized coalition multiparty government.
The PP falls into this last category as an oversized coalition, as one party has a majority in its own right, yet it has invited others into the coalition even as their numbers are surplusage in relation to what is required for a majority. Confirmation of this comes from VOL. 49, NO. 64 of the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette for May 27, 2010, where it is listed for public information at paragraph 949 that the President exercised his powers to appoint Kamla Persad-Bissessar as Prime Minister by virtue of section 76(1)(a) of the Constitution, and not section 76(1)(b). The latter being the clause under which a coalition Prime Minister (like November 1995) would have been appointed.
In dealing with the challenges of an oversized coalition, there will always be attempts by all parties to dominate the agenda and to advance their own causes. The so-called “bad guy” is always portrayed as the majority partner and there are usually complaints about their dominance of the coalition.
Traditional coalition theory about power lying in the hands of minorities are challenged because not all parties depend upon each other for their sustenance in power on the basis of strict numbers. The glue that holds them together is their common respect for their official leader who is the Prime Minister and the fact that they do manage to share a high threshold of consensus on a majority of policy issues.
The existence of differences of opinion is inevitable and the ability to manage consensus in the face of obvious disagreements over core values and beliefs in certain circumstances is a tribute to the skills of the leader and their ability to compromise among themselves to arrive at tolerable levels of consensus.
In some countries, there are parties that have chosen not to hold ministerial office so that they can avoid taking ministerial responsibility for policy matters, while promising critical support in the Parliament for votes on legislation, which is where their stock rises because they know that they have the power to change legislation.
They can craft it the way they want it by negotiation because their votes are crucial, which allows them to shape the legislative agenda without bearing ministerial responsibility for it.
In the Commonwealth Caribbean, that approach is not one that can be adopted because there is a fixation that without the perks of ministerial power one has no clout in the political process. Ministerial office is often the gold standard to which most election candidates aspire and therefore, constitutional reform that seeks a greater separation of powers between denial of ministerial office to elected MPs and the separation of the ministers in the executive branch from the Parliament are not easily accepted. Of course, for that to happen, one would require a presidential model or hybrid and not a parliamentary system such as we have. The recent COP challenges within the Partnership reflected precisely this challenge.
There was the desire to adopt an independent position on policy and at the same time, remain in the Cabinet. By continuing to follow the Westminster-Whitehall tradition of governance, the doctrine of collective responsibility of the Cabinet will remain a foundation. Many have tried to analyse their way around it to offer theoretical comfort for those in need of it.
What the PP has done is to fundamentally alter the way in which party politics is practiced in this country. The desire for hegemony and dominance will always be there, but the motive for sharing power is what has to be examined. All political parties in the Partnership want to find ways to get their agendas adopted as policy. However, they will all come up against the hindrances of each other.
What becomes the defining issue that makes the difference is the quality of leadership that is practiced. Threats of walking away made in public are childish because they are easily overcome, especially when it is known that giving up public office is not something that the persons making those statements want to do.
The PP will only face difficulties internally if there is the sense that the population has turned violently against them. That has not happened based on recent polling data. For the time being, all of the entities appear to be on board and they continue to seek to find ways to articulate their differences.
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