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OUR CARIBBEAN: Curious T&T coalition politics

Rickey Singh

OUR CARIBBEAN: Curious  T&T coalition  politics

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A CURIOUS political development occurred in Trinidad and Tobago last weekend when the trade unions-based Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) withdrew from the five-party People’s Partnership Government (PPG) of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
But the MSJ’s withdrawal from the PPG has not affected the PPG’s parliamentary strength of 29 in the 41 House of Representatives where the opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) accounts for 12.
The curious arithmetic of one from 29 still leaving 29 resides in MSJ’s strange failure, at the time of its hasty formation in 2010, to register as a contesting party, as legally required, with the Elections & Boundaries Commission.
The three other parties which joined the United National Congress (dominant party of “partnership” coalition) in registering for the national poll were the Congress of the People (second major partner); the Tobago Organization of the People (TOP), and the once quite militant National Joint Action Committee (NJAC).
As it turned out, the MSJ’s then leader, retired long-serving president general of the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), Errol McLeod, ended up winning his Point-a-Pierre seat as a UNC candidate. NJAC did not win a seat. The TOP secured the two Tobago seats while the Congress of People secured six, with the UNC winning 21.    
As minister of labour, McLeod subsequently chose to resign from leadership of the MSJ to avoid any perception of conflict of interest in dealing with the labour movement.
He was, therefore, not a party to the MSJ’s withdrawal decision.
That development occurred under current leadership of the militant general secretary of the 0WTU, David Abdulah. He has been openly critical of the PPG administration.
While the COP, led by lawyer Prakash Ramadhar, continues to also express reservations and claims to “sympathize” with the MSJ’s concerns, it remains quite active in the fold of Persad-Bissessar’s administration.
The prime minister sharply reacted to Abdulah’s resignation statement.
She claimed that he had made not just “irresponsible, but reckless demands” on the government. She figures the PPG could be “stronger” without him.
Evidently disappointed and angry that her earlier rhetorical gestures had failed to persuade Abdulah not to cut links with the PPG, even as she continues to cope with expressed reservations also from the Ramadhar-led COP, the prime minister in public statements continues to reflect her strong confidence in the survival of her administration.
Of course, she is aware that even if COP also chooses the withdrawal path, then, at worst, her UNC could still govern with a plurality in parliament, where it controls 21 seats, plus TOP’s two from Tobago.
Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.