Informal Opposition acting informally

 

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Category: Trinidad Politics 11 Oct 09



What do a former attorney general, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Chief Justice Ivor Archie, leading academic, Dr Selwyn Ryan, an MP from the ruling PNM, Dr Keith Rowley, and six Independent Senators have in common? Acting independently, they have collectively formed an informal opposition to the government, created necessary checks and balances that the actual Opposition has been unable to achieve.

Fire the Udecott board

They have, in that order, variously called for the firing of the Udecott board; spoken strongly against proposed constitutional reform that will allow the executive to meddle with the judiciary; virtually dismissed the Prime Minister’s constitution reform “round table” as being fundamentally flawed; blown the whistle on “questionable financial dealings at Udecott” at the cost of a cabinet job; and warned against a “Financial Intelligence Unit” bill which would “attack very severely the fundamental rights of citizens.” This is either indicative of people in public life clanging loud alarm bells to save a sinking democracy, rocked by corruption, spiked by alarming murder rates, or a silver lining of political maturity that could allow us to rise above blind faith and racial politics towards an issues-based politics where the agenda is set by the people.

Perhaps, this chorus of protests reflects a collective fear that the Prime Minister’s considerable power under the Westminster governance is made scarily potent by an opposition that has increasingly lost credibility with petty jostling and Machiavellian alliances. In an interview with the UNC MP for Caroni East, Dr Tim Gopeesingh, I asked him whether his party realised that all the PNM needed was two more seats to gain a special majority in Parliament, which could easily allow the passage of a new constitution which could result in a maximum leader and minimum democracy. I put it to him that an unscientific poll may reveal that the UNC spends more time attacking its former members than doing their job. He disagreed vigorously, insisting: “Our party is 20 years strong, and getting stronger with over 30,000 members.

Having defeated the PNM twice, we are a forceful opposition pushing government back, on everything from the Prime Minister’s dictatorial approach, tending towards autocracy and totalitarianism, from the draft constitution, and its attempts to interfere with the separation of powers among the executive, judiciary and legislature to mass corruption. “We have pushed for commissions of inquiry and the Integrity Commission; pushed the PM back from purchasing a US$50 million aircraft. “We have made motions of no confidence in the PM, and President and highlighted failures of various ministers in order to safeguard the quality of life all citizens. “The UNC has fought this government with the strongest fight you can under the limits of the Westminster system.”

The moral authority

But does the Opposition have the moral authority to address corruption, given that dark clouds still hang over the NFM rice scandal, the Piarco Airport imbroglio, the London flat and others? He said: “Mr Panday was not found guilty of any misconduct. The PNM has to look in its own mirror at the massive and widespread corruption.” Challenged for proof of these claims, he looks to circumstantial evidence, saying that “out of $300 billion the government has spent over $50 billion corruptly in 15 special purpose companies, 36 state enterprises and statutory authorities. I put it to the MP for Caroni East, that the problem with the Opposition today was that it was weakened by petty in-fighting. If there was an election tomorrow, would the UNC win?

“The opposition won 304,000 votes in the last election. We lost the entire election by only 13,500 votes.” Yes, but can you win the next election? The answer was oblique. I reminded Dr Gopeesingh that both Mr Dookeran of COP and Mr Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj have made it clear there will be no such unity as long as Mr Basdeo Panday, 79, remains leader of the UNC. Why wasn’t Kamla Persad-Bissesser given a shot at being leader? Had concrete overtures been made to unite the opposition? Apart from its manifestoes, the UNC has not articulated its alternative position to tackle our high murder rate, poverty, high functional illiteracy, especially in rural areas, or low productivity. Which left us where we began: our most potent system of checks and balances against an increasingly powerful executive is made up of our academics, independent senators, members of the judiciary, one sacked cabinet member of the PNM, trade unions, concerned citizens and, unfortunately, a lame duck Opposition. 

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur