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Squeezing out the Opposition
This column is being written prior to the second anniversary rally of the People’s Partnership (PP). The second anniversary finds the PP in a place where they are able to change the political culture of the country by being able to serve as both government and opposition at the same time.
To this end, they are squeezing out the official Opposition (the PNM) from that exclusive role and forcing them to join the clutter of voices speaking against the Government. This is new to our political culture as the Opposition now has competition for offering dissenting views about the Government to the population.
According to last Wednesday’s Guardian, the Political Leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is reported to have said : “We are sending a signal that we are not happy with a lot of what is happening at the level of state boards and we are not prepared to abide or go along with all the nonsense that is taking place in terms of governance in a number of the state boards, not all.”
This kind of language could more easily be associated with the Office of the Leader of the Opposition than with the corridors of state power. The political culture that emerged over the first 48 years of our independence was such that a government senator would not have been left standing after such a forthright political comment.
However, the political culture is changing as that is precisely the kind of commentary that will help to keep the current Government in power and prevent it from fragmentation. This new found tolerance for dissent in the corridors of State power is the only way that the PP Government can survive. Indeed, in order to reinforce this point of view, David Abdulah went further to say that the MSJ had “not withdrawn from the partnership as of now...we have not withdrawn and therefore the issue of my resignation as a senator does not arise.”
This was perhaps the clearest statement that the Government had found a way to ensure its survival by allowing the MSJ the opportunity to play the role of the opposition inside of the ranks of the Government. Indeed he gave his own signal of when the MSJ will leave the partnership when he went further to say that if he were “to come out of the Senate, it would be an indication that we had broken or withdrawn from the partnership and the Government (and) we have not taken that issue, so therefore I remain here.”
Perhaps, the most interesting line of discussion offered by Abdulah for the political survival of this Government was his expression that he would support the Government in all legislation in the Senate and that he would only change if there was something fundamentally wrong with a bill. If that were to be the case, he would inform the PP caucus so that a temporary replacement could be appointed to replace him in the Senate for such legislation. This is now the formula for survival for the PP.
They can actually have their disagreements and if there is any legislation too contentious for the MSJ, Abdulah is prepared to step aside temporarily so that his vote will not be counted on such legislation and therefore the PP will stay alive and the MSJ will not be charged for supporting contentious legislation against their interests.
One would also look to the COP to play a similar kind of role of being able to criticise the Government to which they belong and which they support. The MSJ formula could also work for them so that they can stay in government, enjoy the spoils of office, and play the role of the opposition when it is convenient for them to do so within the confines of collective responsibility.
This approach is going to place great pressure on the official Opposition, the PNM. How they will compete with these voices that sound just like theirs but are not lining up with them can become problematic? What is the role of the Opposition when you have one built into the fabric of the Government?
With political allies like the COP and the MSJ, the People’s Partnership can be held in check on many policy issues before the PNM even gets involved. The PNM has to be careful that their silence on many issues on which components of the PP Government are arguing does not become a free pass for someone else to play the role of the Opposition.
They may be thinking that these disagreements are leading to the fracture of the PP, when in fact, they are causing it to find a way to exist in the face of internal disagreement. The challenge for the PNM is how to position itself as an alternative to the Government and at the same time try to reclaim ground that has already been taken by allies of the Government who have no desire to be in opposition and can stay in government while sounding like the Opposition.
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