We are going to try and provide some commentary on these issues before the debate that will take place on Monday but these aren’t meant to be legalistic arguments. Some are simply policies we agree with or disagree with. It includes some historical analysis had term limits been in place for previous prime ministers and how their legacy would have been viewed. Some of it is political satire, just given the satirical nature of T&T politics and culture. Some of it is an analysis of the strategy used on both sides. So here goes.
Since the Prime Minister introduced the three proposed amendments to the Constitution during a strategically and rather politically wise but rare August session, an interesting national conversation has emerged. In fact for those of us interested in having a national conversation, our criticisms of proposed reforms will only serve to deepen the conversation. The mistake made by the government is the fact that a referendum measure was not the first measure introduced. This would have simply put the question to a yes or national vote. The case would have been automatic for the run-off, showing the need for majority position instead of minority positions. They had a perfect opportunity to make the case of consensus building much needed in the politics. We urge them to consider a referendum amendment.
For us, term limits for the Prime Minister is simple and a majority (51%) of the country probably agrees with this measure. There is no need for a developing country like Trinidad and Tobago to have a Prime Minister holding on to power after 10 years. After only serving for 5 years and despite his recent death, ANR Robinson would go down in history as one of the best Prime Ministers of Trinidad and Tobago in terms of his legacy.
Let’s talk about legacy a bit.
The silence of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning during this time of elevated national discussion is interesting. Had Manning only served ten years, his legacy would have been seen in a different light, had he not gone done the dictatorial road in his later years? Manning’s political legacy in his own regard is already written and can only be viewed in that of succession in that of Dr. Keith Rowley as political leader of the PNM but one must wonder what goes through the mind of Mr. Manning when he sees the state of the party he once led and how his words against Dr. Rowley has cornered him that the UNC strategists and propaganda machinery exploits.
Mr. Manning will most likely will stay silent, but if and when he speaks his words will be noted carefully because they have tremendous power – the power to brand. If and when he opens his mouth, his criticism will have to be that of Kamla, and much stronger than his criticism of Dr. Rowley. But this is a catch 22, we know whose side Manning is a thorn in, his mere presence, but if Manning criticizes Kamla, this is no good for Rowley and the PNM because we know what this government wants to make this election about and the PNM has taken the bait every step of way. The government is daring the PNM to make it a defensive election, and this is trap because if everyone has to defend their record, some people will have more to defend. On the other hand, an election about the future puts the PNM into a tailspin and a scramble for a script that is never adhered to and appears to be invented on spot – in essence fabricated. Why weren’t the alternatives in Dr. Rowley 10 point constitution plans out in the public prior to this? Why was it a secret?
(Living and Dead PM reflects in someone’s dream)
If wasn’t for his health, we believe that Manning would have led a vigorous charge back, but he should take solace in the fact that people talk about better about us when we are dead, than when we are alive. Ask Robbie, but then again, he was the only man who took a bullet for country. Then there is the doctor, Eric Williams, 56-81, at the helm for at least 25 years, till death did they part. The undisputed father of the nation, a mastermind politician with his interesting electoral strategies that kept him power. The fact is you have to harness your fair share of the blame when you are at the helm, proportional at least. More time in office, more blame. More time in the grave, and hopefully when everyone dies, your legacy can be repaired. This is why no American today hates George Washington (and he owned slaves), no one alive knows him.
Chambers gets little blame – the fete is over. No one wants to remember the 33-3 defeat I brought about. That overshadowed everything he did, or tried to do or could not be done, the money was running out.
Basdeo Panday can easily use his religion, he is a Hindu, he believes in reincarnation. He has the rest of eternity to become PM again so he is not worried about his legacy, much less with term limits, he will just keep coming back coming back and back and back and back.
The Dynamics between the PM and the Opposition Leader
The dynamics between Panday and Manning as PM and Opposition Leader and vice-versa is a missing over the last four years where they challenged each other to elevate their policies. Despite the adversarial nature of politics and debate, these men had a personal friendship, which at the end of the day was good for the nation. This relationship simply does not exists between Kamla and Keith, but that this a different story.
Bringing these amendments at this time, were an effective strategy and a smart politically move on behalf of the Prime Minister and the government. This government has been plagued with scandal time and time again, but the PM has broken the mold in responding, but has effectively branded her partnership not with political parties in a coalition, but with people, with individual people. She knows who hates her (politically), she has her base that loyally supports her, but she is likeable by many who have no fixed political affiliation. It is this likeability factor that makes her transformational leader that Dr. Rowley has yet to project. His base supports him, but it is the middle ground he struggles with which causes great doubt and skepticism to these voters who that Kamla woos because of the likeability factor.
People want to be confident that their parliamentarian regardless of which party is in power whether or not they voted for them. It is in this delicate space that I understand the run-off, but the also the push back towards this measure, which will be our next piece, hopefully before the debate.