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PNM, UNC lessons from battleground Barataria

Published: 
Saturday, July 21, 2018

It was clear in yesterday’s Parliament debate on the appointment of a Police Commissioner, that Monday’s by-election battle fury was still fresh – such were the aggressive, sometimes acrimonious exchanges.

UNC MPs Barry Padarath and Rudy Indarsingh were ordered out of the Chamber after protest outbursts. PNM’s Fitzgerald Hinds and Stuart Young were cautioned on remarks. Padarath, UNC’s Barataria co-ordinator, had earlier sailed into the almost empty chamber on a high.

“Barataria backlash! Where all the PNM MPs? - the curse of the Les Coteaux jumbie’s finally broken!” Padarath declared.

Among lighthearted UNC MPs, Ganga Singh addressed PNM’s Young: “Voters reject your plasticine patriotism! Your (anti-UNC handbook) only good for lining birdcage now!”

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, overseas, missed the preening. But Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley didn’t.

“There are 139 Local Government seats – if you win one and you so happy, then I’m so happy for you,” Rowley remarked dryly during debate.

Padarath later wondered if “Barataria make you bazodee?”

What PNM frontliners deem a “tremor” affecting their party on Monday – Barataria loss, reduced Belmont East win – had early ominous signs. Low Belmont turnout (bad for their stronghold), heavy Barataria numbers (good for UNC’s).

Monday’s mid-term snapshot of shifts in both seats could signal an awakening.

Positive for UNC morale, profile and potential; but a rude one for PNM, publicly knocked 2,084 times – UNC’s total of Belmont East and Barataria votes.

Results have resurrected and reinforced Persad-Bissessar’s leadership stocks within and without UNC, sending messages to present and potential rivals.

Ex-UNC leader Basdeo Panday, whose daughter plans a party, when asked about UNC’s Monday results, said, “Racial voting will continue unless we change the Constitution.”

Messages on Rowley’s stocks are different. While disappointed he’s unlikely dejected. High Barataria turnout confirmed both sides’ supporters wanted a say and parties did their work. Close results confirmed PNM’s strong support – only 108 more supported UNC.

In T&T’s economic scenario, traditional campaigning wasn’t the ticket. Tipping point would have been connection between public and parties. UNC used new organisation led by Barataria born/bred Padarath and other Young Turks like Saddam Hosein, accurately assessing “ground” temperature and playing to that. PNM used tried, but this time not true, formula.

PNM has to ascertain why voters bought into UNC’s plug that “PNM doesn’t care” and assess Barataria crossover votes following issues with the Muslim community. Particularly since a PNM stalwart family and ex-party deputy – Nafeesa Mohammed – lived in core areas of PNM’s defeat.

The wake-up call shows where PNM improvement’s necessary (awareness, action outreach, over “crowing” messaging) in time for changes for next year’s Local Government polls.

Lead up to future polls/campaigns are likely to be a political bloodbath. UNC will factor that into strategising – also, that overconfidence is a drawback.

PNM officials say introspection – apart from today’s General Council discussions – are certain following Monday’s slap in the face, since PNM’s now aware of danger of a political alternative.

What changes Rowley intends – to team, structure, himself, management – lie ahead.

Plus: what effect results have on PNM’s September leadership and executive polls: whether it emboldens certain PNMites dissatisfied with a Government’s operations to contest executive posts.

And: how many Government Budget “sweeteners” are ahead to swing the taxed public.

Although PNM chairman Franklin Khan downplayed by-elections’ significance as a political barometer, subsequent events demonstrate Government’s accepted Monday’s message.

Game-changing starters: Wednesday’s National Crime Prevention Plan (NCPP) launch. Payout for certain workers “wronged” under two past UNC administrations. Leases. San Fernando Boardwalk project beginning. Ganja petition receipt.

At NCPP’s launch Minister Glenda Jennings-Smith stressed: “Government is listening to you….”

National Security Minister Edmund Dillon correctly described it as a defining moment. If efficient NCPP could boost Government’s stocks in pilot corporation areas of UNC-controlled Chaguanas, Diego Martin (for upcoming LG polls) and Tobago (THA polls) reaction to it can gauge public confidence in Government. Dillon on Wednesday declared “Failure isn’t an option!” A stance both parties – judging from yesterday’s Parliament – have firmly taken away from Monday’s events.

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