Thursday, April 08, 2010

Regional Comments

This doesn’t necessarily reflect my views, but you seldom get such a wideranging commentary so I thought it interesting

Under the Microsope: Tremendous intrigue in regional politics


By Hartley Henry
Ok, Madame Letter Writer, you win! As a rule I do not comment on the political goings-on in sister Caribbean states, but your Letter To The Editor over the past weekend has triggered an avalanche of requests for my take on political developments across the region.

First up, Trinidad and Tobago! I do not believe general elections are imminent in that country. Patrick Manning is easily one of the most politically cunning operatives in the region today. He successfully diverted public attention from a major money scandal involving several senior PNM operatives as well as “watered down” the impact of the coronation of Kamla Persad-Bissessar as Prime Minister-In-Waiting, by dropping the hint of imminent general elections.

This is the classic Foolish Virgins political strategy; as clearly Manning is hoping that Kamla and her UNC would peak in the coming weeks, thus burning their popularity lamps dry and not having adequate appeal by the time the actual poll is held. I consider Kamla a political sprinter. Her moment of Midas magic will last all of approximately 12 months.

If Manning were to be so ‘politically drunk’ as to call an election anytime within the next 12 months, he would be clobbered by a Kamla-led UNC, aided and abetted by the Winston Dookeran led Congress of the People. If Manning holds out and permits Kamla’s shine to rub off, I fear the pockets of an incumbent Trinidad and Tobago leader are deep enough to enable him to worm his way back into the hearts and minds of voters.

My advice to Kamla is ‘pace yourself’ and guard against peaking too soon. My advice to Manning is use the diversionary tactic of an early election to your advantage, but for heaven’s sake, and certainly that of the PNM, do not even dream of ringing that bell anytime soon.

Secondly, there is Guyana. At last, Robert Corbin has signalled his intention to sit out the next general election as Presidential candidate for the PNC-Reform. This must be welcome news for all persons bent on seeing the back of the Bharrat Jagdeo led PPP-Civic. I personally believe the move is a little late and that the tunnel vision tendencies of senior PNC operatives will influence their making a poor choice of Presidential candidate.

I believe the PNC-Reform needs a new beginning. The party needs to focus on and promote policies, rather than personalities. There is no single individual who fits the bill at this time, and I do not believe the leadership should focus all its energies on finding ‘the perfect candidate’. I also do not believe that the PNC has to reinvent itself by finding a leader of Indian descent. I get the feeling that the Guyanese electorate would rather vote for a credible, feasible set of economic, political and social reform programmes than for a 2010 Renaissance Man.

In other words, the PNC needs at this stage to come to the fore with a right mix of social and economic policies and let the true leader of the party emerge naturally. By the same token, the PPP-Civic also needs to find a successor to Jagdeo that can imbue fresh confidence and optimism in the party. Frankly, I am at a loss to understand why the party did not move to amend the constitution to permit Jagdeo to stand for another term. I believe he is now coming into his own as a leader of that party and country and his shoes may prove a bit too large for any member of his current Cabinet to fill.

Thirdly, there is St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I believe the holding of that referendum and its timing constituted a major lapse of political judgment. However, Ralph Gonsalves is still the best bet in town. Sir James Mitchell is not Sir John Compton. He does not have the hold on mainland St. Vincent as Sir John did across the length and breadth of St. Lucia. I cannot see him making a successful comeback and Arnhim Eustace is as uninspired and uninspiring now as he was over a decade ago when he stepped onto the political scene.

Ralph Gonsalves is wisely slowing the pace and reducing the political temperature. In nine months the fallout from the calling of that referendum would have been contained and the focus of the majority of voters will be on the person they believe can best lead St. Vincent and the Grenadines downwind of the global economic recession. In that respect, I believe Ralph Gonsalves will be as relevant and formidable as ever.

And then, there is Antigua and Barbuda! I was surprised by the Court ruling. I felt it was necessary and needed, but I honestly did not think there was a Judge in these parts courageous enough to make such a ruling. The election was poorly administered. It was a disgrace to modern day Antigua. However, there is much more to the current political crisis in Antigua and Barbuda than meets the eye. Three bye-elections will not solve Antigua’s problems. There is a crisis of confidence in the economic leadership of the country. Antiguans and Barbudans are not seeing light at the end of the economic tunnel. The Prime Minister and his Minister of Finance are speaking, but not saying anything. Their policies are incoherent and, some may say, nonexistent.

The ruling by the court was hailed by many, because they saw it as an opportunity to change the economic direction of the country. One year after being returned to office, Baldwin Spencer and the UPP dare not return to the polls for a fresh mandate. They are not the flavour of the month in Antigua at this time. The ALP is waiting in the wings, but it has to date not clearly articulated an economic path forward.

Residents of Antigua and Barbuda are yearning for a change, but not an unconditional change. They want a programme of economic reform that they can believe in and buy into. To date, the Labour Party has failed to articulate such in a manner that can be easily comprehended. Baldwin Spencer will explore and exploit all legal options at his disposal to stave off returning to the electorate in whole or in part. He is wise in so doing. With its current momentum, the ALP can bring the government down. What it is yet to demonstrate is that it has the formula for building the country up!

(Hartley Henry is a Regional Political Strategist. He can be reached at: