Sunday 29th July, 2007

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Ballot boundary on unity call

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.

PNM selection

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 Some incumbents have voluntarily withdrawn, while others intend to defy the apparent wishes of their political leader.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.

UNC selection

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 an alliance.

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.

COP selection

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.

Critical issues

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 which constituencies.

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.

Conventional wisdom

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 them?

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 they represent.

What will it take for any of the major parties to capture these undecided voters?

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