Election talk ‘a distraction’

At last Saturday’s PNM special convention and following a walkabout at Valencia on Monday evening, Manning repeatedly said a general election will take place although he did not say when, and that his party will begin the screening of candidates in early April in his own constituency of San Fernando East.

On Monday, Manning made a surprise visit to the Senate where he announced the construction of new hospitals at Port-of-Spain, San Fernando, Mt Hope, Point Fortin, Arima and Sangre Grande — proposals which have previously been announced by his administration since 2005.

Subsequent to this, Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Energy Minister Conrad Enill informed the Senate that debate on the TTRA Bill would not begin until consultations are concluded with the representative union, the Public Services Association, which has been at the forefront of the struggle against the establishment of the TTRA.

According to UWI political scientist, Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, these developments seemed to be aimed more at appeasing the population’s anger over Government’s “missteps” rather than the basis for launching a general election campaign.

“My initial take on Prime Minister Manning’s statements was that he was bluffing because in the context of all that is occurring in the nation, the Report on the Udecott inquiry, which was only handed over on Monday, the PNM is facing an uphill battle should it seriously decide to go to the polls at this time,” he said.

Ragoonath cited a poll conducted last October which showed popular support for the party stood at only 14 percent. Another factor, he said, was the “tremendous goodwill” toward Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar since she won the UNC internal elections in January and her subsequent appointment as Opposition Leader.

“It would be very difficult for the PNM, so that is my initial reaction, especially given his experience in already having called an early general election in 1995,” Ragoonath added.

‘So his statements in the Senate is not a sign that he is thinking about a general election as much as a signal to the population that he is listening to them and is undertaking a review of certain contentious projects and not operating from a position of arrogance.” Ragoonath said Manning had recognised the gap between the PNM administration and the people and was attempting to bridge that gap.

“The cards are stacked against the PNM and the administration knows this is not the time for a general election,” he said, adding, “what he would consider is the holding of Local Government Elections so as to test the waters; because although he said screening would continue, this could last three months, six months, or even a year because he has not set a definite time period,” he added. Another political analyst Derek Ramsamooj stated Manning may be consolidating his political authority in the face of apparent dissent within the ruling party.

“Mr Manning is the longest serving Government MP in Trinidad and Tobago and therefore has an acute sense of political strategy, so the threat of a possible election remains nothing more than a threat,” he said.

Asked about the source of the election talk, Ramsamooj said this was “playing to the media frenzy” saying the main challenge to the Prime Minister was not one of his political skills but to his governance skills.

“One is running a party, the other is running a government, so although the government said it is rethinking the TTRA and the property tax, this is not a withdrawal of those two measures which have proved to be highly unpopular with the population,” he added.

Meanwhile, UNC deputy political leader and Senator Dr Suruj Rambachan also stated Manning’s announcements may have been a bluff and, like his political leader, Persad-Bissessar, said the onus was now on Manning to prove them wrong and set a date. He noted there may be a splintering within the PNM administration and pointed to Manning’s appearance in the Senate and that his announcement on the health initiatives was done in the presence of Health Minister Jerry Narace, who, according to Rambachan, appeared uncomfortable while Manning made the statement.


"Election talk ‘a distraction’"

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