By L. Siddhartha Orie
The UNC’s political leader, Kamla Persad Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago has a very good chance of returning to office as Prime Minister. But she is allowing herself to be misled by sycophants whose interests are only in a safe seat or a position in the party or in government. They are not providing workable suggestions on how to win but giving advice on how to strengthen their position with the leader.
The incumbent PNM has made several missteps, and the UNC political leader must be rejoicing. But in speaking with political experts, prominent UNC activists, and voters, they feel the party has not presented itself as an attractive alternative. There are too many heavy baggage surrounding her like an albatross around the neck of the leader. These sycophants are suffering from delusions of grandeur. They are providing the leader incorrect information on the ground. And as such the political leader has misread the political pulse of the electorate and likely to face another crushing defeat.
The leader and executive sycophants that have her ear, turned to 2010 as a predictor of what they say would be another Kamla victory. The conditions today are quite different. Ten years after she swept to power on a promise of changing the way politics is conducted, the shine came off Kamla. Kamlamania died in 2015. It would take careful reforming of the UNC to rebuild Kamlamania.
In 2010, Manning was very unpopular similar to Rowley now. But the difference is Kamla was a new face as leader of UNC. Voters were presented with a first chance to elect a woman as PM. She had the goodwill of the population, especially female swing voters in marginal seats. Moreover, Kamla was able to bring together disparate groups of all political colours and the labor unions determined to send an arrogant Manning packing. This time around, Kamla decides to go it alone – similar to Patrick Manning in 2000 and Winston Dookeran in 2007; they did lose alone. That lesson has not sunk into Kamla as yet. Whenever UNC united, it won. Whenever it went alone, it lost; 2020 won’t be any different.
Kamla is repeating another mistake she made in 2015 by announcing candidates (in marginals) on the eve of the announcement of the date of election that could come in August. Experts say her behavior indicates that she has not learned anything from that resounding defeat. She should have held discussions with senior members of the party and announced candidates months ago, and even put them in the Senate.
Analysts say if Kamla unites with other opposition forces in an alliance, it is a guaranteed victory. Given the damage to the party’s image during its five years in office and over the last five years, some MPs say the party must explore a scenario of encouraging an alliance of smaller parties and then teaming up with it in an accommodation as happened in May 2015. The combined opposition wins.
The leader is not getting good advice from sycophants in the executives, none of who proffer advice contradicting her. Analysts say the party’s executive is the weakest since it was founded in 1988. It hardly has anyone of substance and national profile to attract swing voters. There are no equivalent of a Trevor Sudama, Kelvin Ramnath, Ramesh Maharaj, John Humphrey, Sadiq Baksh, among others. Activists and former senior members say she needs to stay far from sycophants misleading her of the ground support. UNC is heading for defeat. She must reorganize and revamp the party and select candidates with credibility with a national profile to repair a tattered image to increase chance of victory.
The candidates for four seats, two in marginals, announced by the leader are unknowns, nondescript, and are facing defeat. That eliminates the possibility of the party increasing its seats beyond 18. The problem with the UNC’s search for talent is that Kamla is loath to tap people who are competent, could outshine her, and whose ambitions she distrusts. Compared to the PNM, she has not been able to attract faces needed to expand the base. The party has not been able to attract the likes of a Mervyn Assam, Carlos John, Kuei Tung, Gerald Yetming, Jack Warner, Gypsy Peters, and Herbert Volney.
Rowley has been consolidating the PNM reaching out to the Manning and Penny Beckles sections of the party and announcing candidates with marquee appeal for the marginals. Kamla is way behind Rowley in that thinking about candidates for swing seats. Also, while Rowley is uniting the forces behind him, Kamla is doing the opposite – rejecting Pandayites, Maharajites, Bharatites, Dookeranites, and the smaller parties. It is a recipe for defeat. Sources say that Ramesh Maharaj and Vasanth Bharat have stated that while they would like to help the party rebuild its image, they won’t return unless the party is revamped and the Augean stables cleansed.
Leadership circles are buzzing with speculation about replacements of incumbents in all but six seats, including three marginals; no one is certain of retaining a safe seat except Padarath because of loyalty, not performance or appeal. Changes are coming in the safe seats, but the talent pool in the executive is too shallow to engineer a major revamp. Party executives are demanding and jockeying for safe seats. Some are even publicly saying which safe seat they would get as promised by the leader. Those seeking safe seats are not making any meaningful contribution to the party.
The UNC needs to nominate exciting candidates known nationally, leading personalities who can attract swing voters. Failing unity of opposition forces and respected candidates, the UNC will spend another five years in the opposition.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.