Warner At Greatest Risk
Last week’s Local Government election effectively brings an end to the giddy season of campaign politics that has defined public life for the past four months or so. As if to further underscore the point, this weekend’s cabinet retreat has drawn a sand in the line between the honeymoon and the settled life of incumbency. As of tomorrow, the People’s Partnership can consider itself to have effectively assumed full ownership of the state ofaffairs in Trinidad and Tobago and to proceed to engage the public on that basis.
If anything, this government’s watchword ought to be: “Be careful what you wish for”.
The country has chosen to give the People’s Partnership an open field into the future. Whether it will seize the chance to chart a new course, or elect to simply run wild will be revealed sooner rather than later.
The biggest challenge for Kamla Persad-Bissessar will be to harness the horses in order to lead them along a defined path to an agreed, well-charted future. Responsibility for the big picture lies with the leader but, ultimately, the task has to be entrusted to all, each one of whom must share the vision and understand their respective roles in it. One assumes that this was the point of the weekend retreat.
Since taking office, energies have been bouncing off the wall in this administration, a refreshing turn in the politics given the suffocating culture of the Manning administration.
There are powerful, even mesmerising dynamics at work in the government of the People’s Partnership- inevitably so given the number of leaders assembled under this political umbrella. The body language between Dookeran and Warner, for example, has been particularly eloquent about the political distance between the extreme wings of a partnership built on the ideologies of both real politik and the politics of principle. One would expect the COP’s Local Government victories to soothe the anxieties that have been building since the Partnership took office. Dookeran’s people now have a very real stake in the PP government that transcends the initial allocation of cabinet portfolios to COP individuals. Dookeran’s party has emerged as the real winner of the Local Government elections in having made the case of the emerging power of the middle ground of the electorate.
The relief was palpable on the COP’s victory platform on Monday night for here, at last, was something tangible around which its field marshalls- Hulsie Bhaggan, Wendy Lee Yuen etc- could rally around and take hold of in building the politics of the middle. The party’s Deputy Leader, Prakash Ramadhar, who had seemed to fit so neatly in with the UNC crew, would have had cause for pause as a re-invigorated Winston Dookeran soared into a new orbit of extended oratory that night. The hand has indeed been played well.
None of this would have escaped the UNC leadership, in particular Jack Warner who would instinctively understood the meaning of the COP suckling growing under the wings of the UNC banana tree. Inside the UNC, the case for a political merger might now seem compelling, although the irony would be that the more critical it is for the UNC, the more unlikely it will be to convince the COP.
For now, though, the test of this administration lies in the quality of governance that will be rolled out over the coming months and the extent to which Persad-Bissessar can harmonise her team into a symphony of performance.
So far, the leadership metaphor has been more iron-fist-in-velvet-glove than symphony conductor but we’ll see.
The individual at greatest risk is quite possibly Jack Warner who has long revelled in the role of sticking out his neck and taking on all-comers on behalf of his leaders- from Blatter to Panday, to (briefly) Dookeran, to now Kamla. His self-confidence and deering-do is a double-edged sword that cuts both enemies as well as the neck on the block. Warner, too, needs to make a transition of his own if he is to escape the curse of having got all you wished for.
Across, in the People’s National Movement, Keith Rowley faces a challenge of epic proportions. He might be lucky and find an easy way out if the Partnership implodes. But the COP Local Government victories now make that a less likely outcome than before.
If fate cheats him of that easy chip, he will have no choice but to begin the uphill climb to a different future. Whether Rowley will prove to be a transitional figure in the politics of the country remains to be seen. It may well be that the transformational leader the PNM constituency needs to re-engineer its representational vehicle into the future is not even in the front row of the party’s politics at this time.
The questions is whether the party’s prevailing culture can create the room to let the future in. Who knows? Perhaps Rowley may yet demonstrate the wisdom and self-confidence to lead the party towards the process of re-discovering itself—even at the risk of sacrificing ambition for the gilded throne.