Sunday 1st June, 2008

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A new fracture for unity

THE Guardian reported, last Friday, there was a move afoot between Inshan Ishmael, of the COP, and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, of the UNC, to create a new unified political force to fight the PNM.

Based on the content of the report, one got the impression Basdeo Panday was not part of this new move, and there was the suggestion this was being done to sideline Panday, as well as Winston Dookeran, the COP leader.

Based on public appearances, there is clear evidence Ishmael and Maharaj have joined forces in a march that was organised by Maharaj in Charlieville last weekend.

The next test will be to see who attends the rally being organised by Ishmael on June 8.

So far, it appears as though both Ishmael and Maharaj will join hands on that platform.

According to the report, Ishmael said, inter alia:

“There are certain people in COP and the UNC who wouldn’t want the parties coming together, so something has to give. Maybe this is the beginning.

“I think with Mr Maharaj’s leadership, it stands a better chance of happening, because many people in COP see Panday as a deterrent to an amalgamation of unity.

“Winston and others have said before that there would have been an amalgam if not for Panday.

“If there’s support for Maharaj, he would be the one to ignite unity, because he’s respected by many.” (Trinidad Guardian, May 30, 2008, P 5).

There is no doubt what is going on here. Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj is being promoted as the leader of an initiative for the merger of the COP and the UNC.

It is also obvious the basis of this new political entity is the removal of Basdeo Panday from leadership of the UNC-A.

With Panday under a suspension from the House of Representatives until the end of this parliamentary session (which ends on December 16, if Parliament is not prorogued sooner), it means Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, as the Opposition Chief Whip, has been the one to lead the Opposition forces in the House of Representatives while Panday remains missing in action.

Cross floor

Essentially, if a rift occurs within the UNC-A about any moves that may be made by Maharaj to assume leadership of a new entity that will not include Panday, it would be difficult for any action to be taken against Maharaj under the constitutional provisions for crossing-the-floor as Panday (as leader of the party on whose ticket Maharaj contested the general election) is suspended from the service of the House for the rest of the year (at most).

If these initiatives by Inshan Ishmael are really going to take place with Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, then the UNC-A will have to have an internal debate about whether to accept this move or not.

The Panday loyalists in the party are not going to accept this, and Maharaj will have to declare his hand, unless Panday goes along with the plan.

If Panday is not on board with this, he and Maharaj will have yet another showdown that would recall much of what was said back in 2001, when they fell out with each other.

On the COP side of the coin, there also appears to be to some measure of willingness to engage the process.

Deputy Political Leader of the COP, Prakash Ramadhar, gave a cautious response in the same Guardian report last Friday as follows:

“COP has always been open to persons interested in T&T’s development and willing to subscribe to principles of integrity, morality, decency and courteous behaviour.

“It shouldn’t be about which party is joining which…That’s a false premise promoted by petty politicians.”

Like Prime Minister Manning, Ramadhar is also concerned about people having courteous behaviour. However, he seeks to take the unity debate beyond the issue of parties coming together.

In this context, he appears to be saying the issue of unity is not about COP and UNC-A coming together for the sake of forming a single political machine.

In essence, the very premise of the COP and UNC-A unity argument has been a faulty one, precisely because it seeks to promote division by excluding the PNM.

Designed to heal

How can any political movement that seeks social unity make a call on the basis of the COP and the UNC-A uniting to remove the PNM from power and still be serious about unity?

Such a message contains its own formula for a fracture, because it is designed to exclude PNM supporters.

Such a call for unity contains its own desire for hegemonic domination over the PNM, so that it is bound to fail, because it is a false unity that no PNM supporter would want to share by virtue of automatic exclusion.

The COP–UNC clarion call for unity is really an electoral convenience that is designed to prepare a unified face to defeat the PNM in the local government elections.

It is not about uniting the people of the country because of any belief that the people are divided.

The only division that a COP–UNC call for unity is designed to heal is the one that manifested itself in the voting behaviour of their supporters in the last general election.

If the proponents of a COP-UNC unity are serious about a philosophy of unity, they would not go around talking about the creation of a political movement to remove the PNM from power.

All that that does is to prove that their mindset is about power, not about unity.

They want to use the same philosophy of a majoritarian democracy, where greater numbers of the popular will can provide power, as opposed to consociational and accommodative political behaviour that takes hegemony off the table and engages people in a dialogue about social unity, with respect for diversity.

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