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PM draws battle lines
Although the People’s Partnership (PP) “pre-budget rally” at Mid Centre Mall car park on Saturday was billed as “an account to the people,” the focus was more on drawing battle lines for the future, and less on today’s 2013 budget. “The battle lines have been drawn,” the PM declared immediately as she began her address at the PP’s rally. She later threw the “sweetener” of VAT removal into the political pot to which upcoming budget ingredients will be added today.
The event left no doubt as to the purpose of the rally. PP speakers made much of the turnout, a significant factor for the ruling coalition following Cabinet’s recent mishandling of Section 34. That controversy continues to simmer, fuelling the Opposition PNM’s rising stock in some quarters. Several speakers told the audience that the size of the crowd bespoke public confidence in the ruling coalition.
UNC chairman Jack Warner said the rally was to inform supporters where the PP is heading for the rest of its term. And that is clearly a political battle, judging from all statements. The rally stage was not at the mall’s southern end where it has been in previous rallies. Instead, the stage was set up behind the mall’s eastern wall which is a much narrower space to fill.
Speakers used the occasion to deal with various challenges, spinning it away from the Section 34 issue to PNM leader Keith Rowley’s overtures towards alliances with former coalition partner, the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ). Budget news was in the minimum beyond teasers, Finance Minister Larry Howai’s statement and the PM’s announcements.
“People will have money to spend in the grocery. This will be the merriest Christmas under any Government,” UNC MP Suruj Rambachan declared, before the PM spoke. Others who took the stage urged the PP supporters to “remain strong and not let the PNM intimidate you.” Attorney General Anand Ramlogan only addressed Rowley—and not the various groups demanding his resignation—as he emphatically refused to resign.
“Rumshop badjohns!” Ramlogan deemed PNMites. The audience was liberally sprinkled with placards supporting Ramlogan. The Prime Minister devoted more than three quarters of her hour-long speech to the Opposition threat to the PP, including MSJ leader David Abdulah’s “naked ambition.” She stressed the next election will not be the one the PNM wants but will be in Tobago, where PNM still controls the Tobago House of Assembly.
The PM reminded supporters at great length of what the PP had achieved and what more could be done. But “we have to move Orville London!” she urged. While UNC chairman Jack Warner steered clear of falling afoul of the media again, his boss took up the issue, commenting twice on “media commentators, scribes and lobbyists.”
The next most significant speech was from Congress of the People (COP) leader Prakash Ramadhar. Apparently addressing COP members and UNC/PP colleagues, Ramadhar justified COP’s decision to stay with the PP but warned his coalition colleagues to pull up their proverbial socks.
Ramadhar and Tobago Organisation for the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack both drew comparisons between the recent past and the period leading up to the 1990 attempted coup, when various groups including the Summit of People’s Organisations (SOPO) and PNM were protesting and there was an alliance of several political forces. Ramadhar was introduced and hugged by COP colleague Anil Roberts, who hailed Ramadhar as “my leader.”
The action appeared geared to smoothen COP’s image. The party has recently been rocked by a spate of resignations including most recently word that Roberts had resigned and Ramadhar had not accepted the resignation. At the last rally, MSJ, which left the coalition, was absent.
This time, National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) leader Makandal Daaga was absent. NJAC Senator Embau Moheni told the crowd Daaga was ill. Two weeks ago Daaga was hospitalised for four days but was present with other PP leaders when the PM fired Herbert Volney.
Also absent was former Finance Minister Winston Dookeran, who is at a United Nations conference in the US.
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