?Fifteen years ago, younger and less politically savvy Patrick Manning called a General Election in Trinidad and Tobago a full year before it was constitutionally due. He lost that election. On Saturday, Prime Minister Manning stopped short only of declaring a date for a General Election, as he sent a clear message to the PNM faithful at a special convention ostensibly to honour the life and work of the party's founder Dr Eric Williams, that general elections would be on their agenda immediately. In that speech, the Prime Minister sounded more like a politician rehearsing for the podium on the campaign trail than a man looking back at the legacy of Dr Williams. It was a surprising move and one that will stimulate some heated political analysis, particularly since a general election is not due until 2012. The strategy he hinted at in his Chaguaramas address suggested a willingness, even an eagerness to push a general election ahead of local government elections as part of an apparent effort to define his mandate for leadership.
But the Prime Minister finds himself in curious circumstances right now, and two years is a long time in politics when it's no longer clear whether your leadership enjoys definitive support. On April 9, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is expected to lead a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister in Parliament, the second that he will face in his current term of office. He faced the first in September 2008, a motion piloted by then Opposition Chief Whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. That motion failed in the face of the Government's 26 seat majority in the House against an Opposition presence of 15. In the face of the ruling party's continuing majority and the likely failure of the motion, the Opposition's no-confidence motion signals a far greater than politically normal disapproval of the Prime Minister's performance while inviting members on the other side of the floor to join them in that expression.
Outside of Parliament, the Prime Minister has participated in an unprecedented number of countrywide tours and cottage meetings, unprecedented that is, outside of a formal election campaign. So on the surface of it, there is much in these public engagements to support PM Manning's claim that he is fully aware of the sentiments of the public regarding his governance and the performance of his team of Ministers. In a startlingly short time, the successes so publicly relished in 2009 with the two summits have turned out to have a bitter and lingering aftertaste. The triumphant opening of NAPA for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting has now devolved into a vigorous backpedaling on expectations for the facility, and an acknowledgement that some money will need to be spent to implement adjustments. That admission was all but forced out of the Ministry of Culture by a growing groundswell of concerns about the practical applications of the virtually untouched Performing Arts Centre.
A massive flag that cost taxpayers $2 million flutters like a bloodied albatross above the stadium, a celebration of national pride that nobody asked for. With two summits down and an economic forum to come, there remains no substantial value accounting of the returns, real or anticipated, from these massive exercises in public spending and political hubris. The Tarouba Stadium, a facility that must give cricket legend Brian Lara nightmares, remains uncommissioned years after it was scheduled to be pressed into use. While it is clear that the Government has had some real successes, which include the CDAP programme and the Water Taxi service, these and other humiliating, epic failures remain substantially unacknowledged save for further spin and acts of political sleight of hand like the recently announced big spend on Laventille.
With his opposition dancing ever closer to a meaningful courtship of purpose and his adamantly inexperienced team providing little support for his rhetoric, the Prime Minister must feel it critically necessary to consolidate and mobilise his support while refreshing his mandate with the public. The surprises from the PNM's political leader, the public may reasonably expect, are far from over.