Thursday, May 3, 2007

Opposing Forces

The opposition in general should serve as an alternate government.

The UNC of 2002, when the final nail was pounded in the coffin that sent them to another 5 years in the Opposition grave, should have used the opportunity then, as articulated by its leader, to reorganise itself into a party post Basdeo Panday. The reality of the situation is that Panday is not immortal, and whatever he's done great or fallen short of for this country, the UNC needed to start moving quickly towards a post-Panday era if they were to attract any sort of new support or support from the Independent/Non Voters in T&T, while maintaining their base.

Given that they did, in fact, have internal elections and Winston Dookeran won the post of Leader, it showed that Panday's thinking was either that he was more of a liability to the party or that he wanted to move on to a life not as heavily set in politics (a retirement of sorts). The fact that Dookeran ran unopposed is immaterial. If anything, it showed a great vote of confidence in his ability to lead the party after Panday.

This is where things got messy. Instead of engaging in a divisive war that undid whatever goodwill there was, Panday should have helped (not dictate or unilaterally made decisions) his party, in Opposition to position itself as a viable, serious alternate to the PNM by the following:

1. Formation of a shadow government with its 16 MPs and 6 Senators that tracked each of the actual ministries and held ministers accountable; liaising with the Permanent Secretaries in order to ensure that policy was implemented and undue governmental pressure was not exerted on individuals or companies. To their credit, they did attempt to do this, but it fell apart quickly, even before the internal elections.

2. To provide effective representation to their voters and the wider population that did not support the election of the party in power. They needed to ensure that they were present at their constituency offices to serve the people that elected them and bring the issues facing the average person to the fore. Coming in from the government, they, more than any other group should have been well attuned to the issues facing people on a daily basis. Sure the simple, basic problems that existed 6 years ago when they demitted office still exist, but what proactive solutions have they proffered to combat these problems? They may not have the resources to implement the suggestions, but having documentation suggesting that an effort was made puts the onus on the Government as to why they didn't accept a possible solution. This is clearly seen with the immense pressure the GOTT has taken over the crime situation and now, with elections looming they are forced into consultations etc. Where was the similar pressure from the Opposition about Utilities, Economy or Health and Education? Imagine the leverage they could have had going into this election had they simply done their job.

3. Instead of bringing all these motions to the House as 'Urgent Public Importance' which were summarily dismissed by the Speaker (justifiably or not), why not use political maneuvers to have these motions tabled properly and force the GOTT into a debate even if the Private Motion would have been voted down by the majority of the government? The Democrats in the US pushed their bill through on the Iraq War Funding even though they knew that the President would veto and they didn't have enough support in either House to override the veto. Such a strategy would have forced the Parliament into voting or debating the motions and people would have seen for themselves how the response from members were. Instead, what we had were MPs like Partap, Nanan, Singh (Ganga) and Wade Mark seeking confrontation in the Houses when nothing at all was being done, except for a 2 min clip on the news that night. Not a single matter of urgent public importance was ever addressed!

4. Bargaining for what you want. Instead of withholding crucial votes and frustrating crucial legislation, they could have struck deals and ensured that some Opposition agendas were fulfilled. That way, they could have come to their supporters with some sort of proof that they actually engaged in a degree of decision making in the Red House. Ironically, the only time I remember in the life of the current Parliament that this ever happened, was when the COP gave conditional support for the Bail Bill in return for debate on the Equal Opportunity Bill. When the GOTT lapsed and the COP threatened not to renew the Bills, they tabled the bill, which is currently being debated. Had they not had that yolk over their head, do you think they would have given that Bill the time of day? And that's just a singular example of how the Opposition could have been more effective.

5. Call the bluff. There have been so many reports, rumors etc of wrong doing with the current administration. Why didn't the Opposition try to unearth as much as they could have with regard to these? There was much talk of Panday being singled out for prosecution under the Integrity Act. Why didn't the Opposition compile a list of similar offenders and remind the Integrity Commission that those persons were also in violation of the Act. Inundate them with letters and calls for action against the others until something happened. Instead, the Opposition went all wishy washy, caught up more with selling the (flawed IMO) point that there was a direct vendetta against, not only UNC supporters by the GOTT but against Indians on the whole. Where has that strategy gotten them? Won't it have been much more worthwhile to have organised their members to send in letters of complaint, organise protests (rather than the THREAT of protest) etc until some sort of decisive action was taken to ensure 'equality' before the law. But no, Panday chose to sell himself, selfishly, as a martyr. (of what, exactly is unclear, since there was damning evidence , provided by his own AG that he had an inappropriate account in London)

Those are just a few things that would have made for a stronger, more effective opposition in T&T over the last 6 years. We've spent the better part of the last 3 years seeing the UNC fall apart, while we spent the better part of the first 2 years seeing them try to get their act together.

A party cannot rely on people voting for them solely because they want to paint their opponents as monsters or proclaiming that anything would be better than them, if you don't have the track record to prove it. To harken back to the golden days of the UNC in the mid to late nineties needs a realisation that the UNC of 1995-2000 no longer exists, replaced instead by a shadow of a party (more like a committee of individuals seeking their own political survival) that has done very little in the preceding 6 years to demonstrate that they are competent to serve as the next government of T&T.