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A tale of two elections

Published: 
Sunday, December 3, 2017

Two Sundays ago, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan was elected political leader of the Congress of the People (COP). She defeated Sharon Gopaul-Mc Nicol by a margin of 416-168. A total of 589 votes were cast with two votes being spoilt and three votes being rejected.

Last Sunday, Kamla Persad-Bissessar was re-elected political leader of the United National Congress (UNC) with 20,328 votes and Christine Newallo-Hosein getting 114 votes and Chanda Bhaggan getting 45 votes.

The contrasts were extreme and confirmed that the COP has really lost a lot of ground from where it was ten years ago. On the other hand, Persad-Bissessar increased her vote count over her two previous victories which was a significant statistic in its own right. In her 2010 victory she got 13,932 and in 2015 she got 17,502.

In all cases the membership of the UNC had also increased. Her critics would have lambasted her if her numbers had declined in any form or fashion. One critic posted a tweet before all of the votes had been counted which said that she had received less than ten per cent support of the membership when it was more like 20 per cent of the membership. 

The COP turnout was a major disappointment for a party that had grown exponentially from 2006 onwards. That growth got stunted in 2011 when Winston Dookeran decided that he would not seek re-election as political leader and there was a five-way fight for the leadership of the party.

That ushered in a period of decline for the COP as internecine warfare became the hallmark of the party’s affairs. That warfare continued right up to the eve of this recent leadership election that involved a court battle. Another court battle that awarded damages to some members was also appealed.

As a party that offered the country “new politics” there is a lot of work to be done to begin a process of healing. There are some who believe that there is nothing left to heal any more, while others believe that salvation is possible.

On Monday November 20, 2017, Shaliza Hassanali reported in the Guardian as follows:

“As for forming a coalition with the UNC, Seepersad-Bachan said, “At this point in time that question does not arise. The People’s Partnership, as you would have known…many years ago, in 2014, when I did go up for the political leader’s post I spoke about how we could have gotten the coalition politics right at that point in time. It was not taken on board. Unfortunately, the partnership came to an end.”

That is going to be a sore point for the COP going forward because what ripped the party apart was whether it should stay in a coalition with the UNC or go it alone.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar is not talking coalition politics in the aftermath of her victory. She is talking about the PNM being the enemy and her focus is on that. Last week Seepersad-Bachan said that she would be prepared to engage the PNM in dialogue.

Right away it is apparent that the COP and the UNC are not likely to come together anytime soon. The tale of two elections has a lot more to do with perceptions about the way forward for both parties as opposed to just counting the numbers of who voted in each election.

With different perceptions of the PNM emerging from both leaders, it seems unlikely that there will be any coalition between the UNC and the COP anytime soon.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my perception that Persad-Bissessar had pressed the reset button in the UNC and she was moving to reorganize the party. Coalition politics does not appear to be on her horizon for the UNC, so it will be interesting to see how the COP will move forward in dialogue with the PNM and the UNC going it alone.