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Assessing The Partnership At Midterm
As the People’s Partnership arrives at midterm, it is a good time to assess where they are. One has to understand their victory in May 2010 in the context of a fractured PNM which had powerful interests within its ranks who wanted to see the back of Patrick Manning as prime minister and as political leader of the party.
However, that decision was located within the context of a political gamble whereby they took the risk in the belief that the People’s Partnership would fracture early and a quick return to the polls would arise.
The problem that has arisen is that the Partnership is lasting much longer than was expected and the only fracture has been a split within the Movement for Social Justice, with one faction led by David Abdulah leaving the Partnership and the other faction loyal to Errol McLeod staying within the Partnership. However, the official party symbol and the official party apparatus is with Abdulah, while it is difficult to tell where the support for the party really lies.
Nevertheless, there are real challenges facing the Partnership as its experiment with consociational governance in the context of our Westminster-Whitehall system of government continues to defy the logic of political fracture and destruction in this multi-ethnic society.
The energies and skills that it took to win the election of 2010 are not the energies and skills that are required to govern this country. The cross-ethnic coalition of the UNC, COP, TOP, NJAC and the MSJ has not been damaged by the split within the MSJ.
However, the Section 34 fiasco has breathed new life into the PNM. This has allowed it to emerge as far more energised than it had appeared before and the party is going into its annual convention and the THA elections with some measure of Section 34 momentum.
The Partnership, on the other hand, has had to deal with internal divisions within the COP over whether it should leave the Partnership or stay.
That debate is still raging within the COP and could threaten to divide the party mainly because the fundamental question that the COP has to settle is whether it wishes to be a party that will share power as either a permanent or temporary coalition partner with the UNC (like some Western European parties that have permanent coalition partners), or whether it wishes to stand alone, win alone or lose alone as a single party competing for power for itself only.
The growth model for the COP is still undecided as the clash between power-sharing partner and single-party model for sole control of power continues to play itself out. The UNC has not had to face this problem as it is a dominant single party on the political landscape that has taken the decision to share power with others and does not have that debate raging within its ranks to the same extent as the COP.
The TOP has been granted segmented autonomy (one of the main features of consociationalism) in relation to Tobago as neither the UNC nor the COP is intending to contest elections there. That has allowed the TOP to be a part of the Central Government and now seek to enhance its stock within the Partnership by contesting for control of the THA in the upcoming elections.
The battle in Trinidad is one in which coalitions have to have genuine cross-ethnic appeal for them to work in the context of the Westminster-Whitehall model. The PNM appears to be flirting with the idea of coalition politics in relation to its recent embrace of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the MSJ.
The difference here is that the PNM will have to decide whether it wants to develop this embrace into a power-sharing philosophy with the MSJ and the JTUM or whether it will hold firm to its traditional principle of single-party dominance as expressed in its clarion call that “Great is the PNM and it shall prevail!”
For cross-ethnic coalitions to work in Trinidad, there must be cross-ethnic policy measures to match. To this end, the calls by a political and intellectual elite for the removal of Jack Warner from the Partnership Government is also designed to weaken the UNC from enhancing its cross-ethnic appeal as a national party in challenging the stereotype that it is an Indian party.
His policy attention to Laventille and East Port-of-Spain will raise the temperature in some quarters for him to go and opens the door for a battle royale in traditional PNM territory. The fact that Jack Warner got thousands of Indian voters in the UNC internal elections to vote for him to be their chairman represents a clear and present danger for some inside and some outside the Partnership.
The leadership skills required to lead a coalition government are very different from leading a single-party government. Sharing power and implementing cross-ethnic policy measures is a different skill from leading a dominant single party in a society like ours where it is becoming increasingly more difficult for one size to fit all.
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