In Part II of The Political Roundup for February we will turn our attention to national politics dealing mostly with the PNM internal elections. We will explore Constitution Reform nationally and its significance to Tobago. Additionally we will further explore the political maneuverings of Internal Self-Government.
Let us begin with the internal elections of the PNM. From the looks of it, when the PNM faithful votes in May Dr. Keith Rowley will keep his current post as Political Leader. From the outside, the candidacy of Penelope Beckles-Robinson can be viewed as an attempt to strengthen the party and attract new members, but the discourse on social media (a good pulse of public opinion); the tide has turned against Beckles-Robinson and her candidacy is not welcomed. The attacks against Beckles-Robinson on social media are telling but what percentage of these individuals are registered party members who will actually vote in the election is all that matters. The party establishment for the most part will back Dr. Rowley the anointed candidate as they have always done with the next in line. However, the ‘villianification’ of Beckles-Robinson also has the possibility to backfire on the party because the perception of ‘doing it to their own’ will only set up greater offensives moves by the PP and the type of campaign they will wage in 2015 to remain to government.
While there will be enough time to write more on the internal elections of the PNM the next few months there will be interesting developments as it plays out. Dr. Rowley will have to use this time to look prime ministerial and change perception for the floating vote. Perception of these ‘old school’ PNMites does not sit well with a large part of the population, and in politics, perception is a lot and it matters. The victories in 2013 gave the party some momentum but the party has to also demonstrate that it is ready for government, has the capacity to unite the population and can secure a working constitutional majority in the Parliament. Getting their hands on the treasury though important should be the least of their concerns because they will only set themselves up and their own words would be used against them. Nevertheless, we will have enough time to explore this but let it be known, 2015 is going to be a fight and a very expensive general election.
Let us now move on to the issue of Constitutional Reform. This would be further addressed in greater detail but it must be included in this roundup. The People’s Partnership will bring a Constitutional Reform Bill before the Parliament but we are not sure about its passage, it is doubtful. There will be tremendous opposition from the PNM, but this too can be a political trap for the PNM and a tactical strategy of the PP. Some Opposition MPs have already went on the record stating that they will not support any constitutional changes, and this is a possible strategy to paint them as the status quo, the party of no change, (not even a Penny, (for the sake of picong). The PP will use history and everything the PNM has said while ever in power to the present to shift the focus from its current record, allegations of perceived corruption and the mistakes of past four years. While Rowley has tried extensively to define himself as anti-corruption, standing up to Manning in 2009 against UDeCOTT, whether its passion or anger on Rowley’s part, the Opposition Leader has to clean up this image and show his capacity to engage and not outrage or instill fear in others.
On the other hand, should the bill pass, the 2015 election will proceed as normal, but the government formed afterwards will not last an entire five years because of the pending changes in the constitution. This will be done so there is no unfair advantages and to accommodate the electoral changes of the reform.
What about Tobago?
Tobago has to make itself a greater part of the national conversation in many matters but when it comes to Constitutional Reform many now believe a mistake was made on the part of the Commission. During the consultation Chief Secretary Orville London suggested that the Commission take into consideration the on going debate on internal self-government. The Commission obliged to the request and while it is an Independent Commission, during the time of the consultation it was strategic for the PP to tone it down and give some concessions after the defeat of the TOP in the January election.
There was no direct engagement on the Tobago issue of internal self-government between the government and the Tobago House of Assembly during the latter half of 2013 and the Prime Minister did not bring it up. Nevertheless, people were asking for clarity between the PNM in Tobago and the PNM in Trinidad because the PNM historically supported greater autonomy for Tobago. Media reports from the Chief Secretary and the Opposition Leader showed that they were not on the same page, going as far back as April 2013 when London asked the Commission that Internal Self-Government should not collide with Constitution Reform.
A meeting in January convened by Chief Secretary Orville London brought together the leaders of the TOP (Ashworth Jack), the TPT (Hochoy Charles) and Neil Wilson, Chairman of the Tobago Council of the PNM and called for a for a ‘one voice approach.’ Plans to meet again in February fell through, as Ashworth Jack was not able to attend delaying the talks. Jack expressed some skepticism after the first meeting, but a subsequent PNM meeting in John Dial as well as Ministry of Tobago Development meeting about Constitution Reform may have unsettled some nerves about this ‘one voice approach.’
London’s consensus approach must be backed up my some genuine commitment from the PNM in Trinidad to support whatever gets laid in the Parliament. London was quoted in the Tobago News; “The ideal situation should be one where there is almost consensus before it does not matter who takes it to the Parliament.” This sounds ideal, but politics is not the ideal world, it is the world in reality.
The Commission was faulted for conceding to London’s request. If Tobago’s autonomy was dealt with fully by the Commission the ball game would have turned out differently and while there is more to say about this, if the Opposition is showing no current support for Constitution Reform, if the Tobago question was included, it too would be squashed but we don’t know what will be the outcome after it is tabled in the Parliament.
In Part III, we will deal with the TOP, the ILP, the Ministry of Tobago Development and other happenings as we conclude the Political Roundup for February.