Ralph Maraj___Use

political analysts Ralph Maraj 

Two months ago in a column, “Coalition coming”, I said, “sooner or later, as national conditions inevitably worsen, another massive coalition will emerge incrementally to coalesce, like in 1986 and 2010, to challenge the People’s National Movement (PNM)”.

Now we see seeds being planted with the warming of relations between the United National Congress (UNC) and the trade union movement, both pivotal in the coalitions of 1986 and 2010. A few days after Labour Day, supported by workers chanting “Rowley must go”, labour leaders gathered in front of Parliament to deliver the “Workers’ motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister”. Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar emerged from the Chambers to accept the letter from Ancel Roget, leader of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM). He told her that on Labour Day, the workers voted unanimously to support the motion against Rowley and his administration. “On behalf of the suffering masses, we deliver this no-confidence motion to you, Opposition Leader,” Roget said, “so you can see that thousands of workers signed it. I thank you for coming out of Parliament, as it shows much respect” to the workers.

Another labour leader, Michael Annisette, general-secretary of the National Trade Union Centre (Natuc), told Persad-Bissessar that workers in Tobago also signed the no-confidence motion. He praised Persad-Bissessar for “showing character to leave the Parliament, to come and meet with the people who are really feeling the pain. This shows those who are for us and those who are not”.

It was a striking development. For the first time in the five years after withdrawal of labour from the People’s Partnership government and the Fyzabad Accord, Persad-Bissessar and Roget were seen together. Recognising the significance, the three daily newspapers carried pictures of the meeting on their front pages the next day. Very instructively, Roget will also deliver a copy of the motion to the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, Farley Augustine. The ground is being made fertile for the coalition.

Indeed, as I have pointed out, Tobago has already led the way with a “political earthquake” giving the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) a 14-1 victory in the last THA elections—an overwhelming repudiation of the PNM which had ruled the roost in the island for the last 21 years. And very instructively, after the historic win, PDP deputy political leader Farley Augustine warned Dr Keith Rowley that “Tobagonians are mighty enough to also get rid of you” as prime minister. And they are working towards it, opening an office on Trinidad’s East-West Corridor and mobilising in PNM strongholds.

That other fundamental force in the 1986 and 2010 coalitions is also stirring. The incipient National Transformation Alliance (NTA), led by Gary Griffith, could turn out to be another incarnation of the Organisation of National Reconstruction (ONR) of 1981/86 and the Congress of the People (COP) of 2007/10—political vehicles of the urban, middle-class, non-aligned voters, the “third constituency” in Trinidad with reach in both PNM and UNC strongholds. The ONR and the COP were pivotal in the massive coalitions that defeated the PNM resoundingly in 1986 and 2010. Can Griffith stir that constituency? He was quite popular as police commissioner among people of all political persuasions. In the last Nigel Henry poll during his tenure, his approval ratings far exceeded the Prime Minister’s—Griffith receiving 69 per cent to Rowley’s 47 per cent. Under Griffith’s leadership, confidence in the Police Service increased by an impressive 20 points. Now there is general despair with murders already over 250 this year.

As in 1986 and 2010, the United National Congress (UNC) would be central to any new coalition. Its political leader has responded positively to prospects. “All things are possible, in the fullness of time,” says Persad-Bissessar. “The UNC is prepared to work with anyone to remove this Rowley regime. The unions have asked for our help and we will ask for their help.” Acknowledging that, given the past, the party’s membership would be sceptical about an alliance with labour, she said, “mistakes can be made and have been made by many people. Let bygones be bygones, we have a greater battle to fight”. She also said the UNC has not entered into any arrangement with Griffith’s NTA. Many feel it is only a matter of time.

The disenchantment with the PNM is very strong today as in the ’80s and in 2010. The prolonged, ill-explained absence of the prime minister from a country facing storms, metaphorical and real, has not helped. Unless the party renews itself with sensitive leadership that also demonstrates comprehension of the massive problems facing the nation and produces a workable plan to avert an approaching national disaster, it will continue to lose favour with the electorate.

Its prospects for recovery are dim. It could call early elections to head off a coalition. Or, remain in office and hope there is no coming-together of political forces, allowing the PNM to win again in 2025. Such an outcome would mean continuing disaster for Trinidad and Tobago in the view of very many people. Seeds for another massive coalition are consequently germinating.

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