As the screening processes reach differing levels of preparedness,
it is obvious that all of the major political parties are
placing great emphasis on the type of candidates they intend
to place before the national electorate. Each of these parties
has differing challenges in selecting its candidates.
For the PNM, there is the issue of the need to make changes
in order to offer a new image to the public. Some incumbents
have voluntarily withdrawn, while others intend to defy the
apparent wishes of their political leader.
There is a third category of people who are not going to be
considered by the party on the ground that they have matters
pending before the courts.
Mindful of these varied challenges, the leadership of the
PNM decided to start screening candidates for areas that are
not currently controlled by the party. From all reports, this
has been substantially completed.
There are a few constituencies where the boundary changes
have created the need for closer review and others where no
decision has been made because the choice of a candidate has
been referred back to the constituency.
The PNM will now enter the phase of deciding on candidates
in areas currently controlled by the party. Boundary changes
will present the opportunity to bring forward new faces, while
hard decisions may have to made in some areas in order to
remove a few incumbents.
It is in this setting that the management of the likely internal
political tensions will present the greatest challenges if
these incumbents are not prepared to give way.
Meanwhile, the UNC has a different challenge on its hands.
The political leader has entered into an arrangement with
three political parties and a former pressure group to form
There is no leader, but rather a leadership council that has
been mandated to lead the party into the next general election.
In the absence of a definite political leader, this group
will be relying upon the President to choose the prime minister
should the alliance win a majority of seats.
Basdeo Panday already has been outfoxed by the PNM on this
score once before (when there was an 18-18 tie). This approach
of contesting a general election without an obvious political
leader is new to our political arena and the electorate will
have to guess as to who is likely to lead the government should
the alliance win a majority of seats.
In the face of this uncertainty, the candidate selection process
should also be interesting.
With a leadership council that is not controlled by the UNC,
the power given to the smaller parties in the candidate selection
process may put some pressure on the UNC rank and file in
what may be viewed as traditional UNC seats.
The political gamble being made by Panday is that he can offer
a diverse slate of candidates to the electorate in the hope
of negating the allegations of corruption that are likely
to be made against him.
With new faces from outside the party at his side, he is hoping
to promote diversity.
Meanwhile, the Congress of the People (COP) continues to move
along with its public meetings and the revelation of new faces
on its public platforms.
The candidate selection process is apparently underway and
the party already has claimed it will have 41 candidates in
place in time for nomination day.
It has been on the receiving end of simultaneous attacks from
the UNC coupled with invitations to join the alliance.
The COP has taken a position that it is not interested in
any unity arrangement with the UNC and that it intends to
press on with its agenda.
This approach has led them to be called the PNM B team by
many in the UNC, while many others in the UNC have called
for the COP to join an alliance against the PNM. Needless
to say, none of this makes sense.
The critical issue to be identified here is that the PNM and
the COP have no desire to enter into any unity discussions
with third parties. The UNC wants unity arrangements because
it fears it cannot win an election on its own steam.
The unity discussions, however, have not gone beyond the general
election. What will the electorate get if a majority of UNC
Alliance candidates should win their seats?
Many issues are being swept under the carpet for the time
being, such as who will be the leader and who will contest
At some stage, those issues will rise to the surface again.
Panday most probably has a strategy to handle these matters
nearer to the election date.
He may get the chance to remove some incumbents through the
Alliance initiative in the name of unity and also present
some different faces in leadership positions.
These new faces may want traditional UNC seats in the hope
of being elected if the UNC majority or plurality can hold
in those areas.
The conventional wisdom is that the PNM will be the prime
beneficiary of the split between the UNC and the COP. The
extension of this belief is that the PNM is expected to win
a special majority.
However, one cannot tell what the electorate will do. There
is a virtual X factor out there that is currently
residing in the large undecided column of many
opinion polls. Who are these people and what will motivate
Candidate selection may be a significant factor for them as
well as leadership potential and policy direction. There may
be more voters today who are not prepared to surrender their
vote to just about any and every person because of the party
What will it take for any of the major parties to capture
these undecided voters?