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Raffique Shah


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Political volcano erupts

By Raffique Shah
March 1, 2015

A political volcano has erupted with full force, spewing rocks, ash, lava and fetid gases across Trinidad and Tobago’s landscape. But even as the explosion demolishes structures and changes the electoral topography, the political seismologists and volcanologists, seemingly in stupor, pretend that all is well.

I refer to the implosion in the Congress of the People (COP) that started sometime around 2011 with mild rumblings and defections, but which, today, is turning into an exodus of immense proportions.

This is not a case of the odd member of the COP, angered by being fired from some plum position, venting his or her spleen against the People’s Partnership. What we are witnessing is an entire constituency of electors, disgusted at being used by the United National Congress (UNC) to gain office, then discarded as one would flush a toilet after a purge, walking away and boldly announcing why they are breaking ranks on the eve of elections.

Last week, Conrad Aleong, Joe Pires and Richard Granger virtually stage-managed their resignations from the COP (and by extension the Partnership), in full glare of the media. Pires is a businessman who had run as a COP candidate in 2007 in one of the Diego Martin constituencies. He was prominent in the Partnership in 2010, and up to when he resigned last week, chaired the Diego Martin North-East executive.

Aleong I know only as a former head of what was then BWIA, and I know nothing about Granger. Their resignations came immediately after COP chairman Nicole Dyer-Griffith’s, who had quite a mouthful to say when she quit.

Aleong said he had never been political before (presumably, he meant an active member of a party), but was attracted by the COP under Winston Dookeran’s leadership, and later the Partnership.

Saying he was "not a member of any tribe", he told the media, "The people who expected the COP to keep the UNC honest were very disappointed."

Pires said that shortly after the 2010 election, the constituency (Diego Martin North-East) "was handed over to the UNC".

And Granger said the COP "had become a UNC b-team", which was not what he initially signed up for when he joined the party. According to a Guardian report, Granger described the fate of the COP as being akin to battered wife syndrome.

"You getting licks everyday and being told that you wrong, but you know that you are right," he said

Much like those who departed from the COP earlier, the trio sees the UNC as domineering, not simply dominating, and corrupt, which is not what they expected after 2010.

Now, many in the Partnership Government will dismiss this spate of resignations as the departure of a discontented few, a mere handful of individuals who have no electoral clout. That is where they are dead wrong, with the emphasis on "dead".

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the firing of Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith and National Security Minister Gary Griffith, I pointed out that they represent a larger "constituency" in the East-West Corridor, especially in the marginal seats. And while they may never have the clout to win an election on their own, they are strategically positioned to deliver victory to one party or other.

Now that the exodus from the COP has become almost a rout, consider that apart from a few high-profile departures that make the news, large numbers of supporters have defected very quietly. And while these are people who may not support the PNM, they are bitterly opposed to the UNC.

Taken from another perspective, here are some of the COP 2007 frontline members who remain in the UNC/Partnership: Prakash Ramadhar, Anand Ramlogan, Devant Maharaj, Rabindra Moonan, Nirad Tewarie, Ganga Singh, Manohar Ramsaran, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan...

Need I continue for you to get my drift?

True, others such as Rodger Samuel, Marlene Coudray and Selby Wilson have not broken ranks. But the divide has been largely along race lines, which will drive the UNC/Partnership back behind the ethnic barricades.

Indeed, when the pollsters come up with a mysterious 34 per cent of electors who, with mere months to go to the next election, claim to be "undecided", the answer may well lie largely among these disaffected ex-COPpers who are eager to lash out at the UNC. These are the people who will determine which party wins or loses the election.

There is no time for a "third force" of substance to emerge. As such, there will hardly be an "earthquake" of 1986 proportions that almost wiped the PNM off the map. Jack Warner’s Independent Liberal Party (ILP) will have little more than nuisance value and Tobago is now TOP-less.

So, we are back to PNM and the UNC. The COP is dead, but its constituency is very alive. They will vote PNM as a way of punishing the UNC. But they will not allow the PNM to conduct "business as usual", to engage in corruption, discrimination, nepotism.

They will demand high standards of governance, which is what they had hoped for when they supported the Partnership in 2010. In the next new dispensation, uneasy will lie the head that bears the title of Prime Minister. Take warning.

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