Did he heed the plea of the Chamber of Commerce that the uncertainty was bad for business in Trinidad and Tobago? Or did he re-consider his recent “excuse” for withholding the election date, that is, because the PNM allegedly lost the 1995 Election because a Cabinet leak meant that while the PNM knew the date and the UNC knew the date, the PNM did not know the UNC knew the date...? That said, the May 24 date comes as no surprise to us and indeed should not surprise seasoned election observers.
Manning has clearly named a date that he sees as being to his best advantage.
After dissolving Parliament on April 8, Manning was due to hold the election within three months, but was also due to give 35 days notification, which by our calculation meant the election had to be held sometime within the period of May13 to July 8.
Having suddenly dissolved Parliament on April 8, the day before the parliamentary no-confidence motion against him, Manning has now clearly opted for hurried battle by calling the election for a date that is sooner rather than later. While there is an argument that the PNM’s incumbency might give them access to more resources than the Opposition parties in order to sustain a long election campaign running into June or July, it seems Manning has instead gambled that a quick election would catch the Opposition forces off-guard and as yet disunited. Minister of Tertiary Education, Christine Kangaloo, has already sought to play this card at last Monday’s PNM rally in St Augustine where she said such a merger of Opposition parties “would not have a clue what to do next” and would soon collapse “because it is in their DNA”.
Voters will have to decide whether or not this is a fair comment.
As said before in our previous editorial, Manning has done the country no favours by imposing on voters a stark choice between a ruling party that is seen as tainted by allegations of Udecott corruption (and maximum leadership), or an as yet unformed Opposition.
Manning last Monday likened the Opposition parties to the 1986 NAR Government, which he called, “a seething multitude following a public relations package”. This remains to be seen.
However, Manning’s remarks strike us as somewhat hypocritical.
Manning has shown little regard for the well-being of Trinidad and Tobago by giving an alternative government just 38 days to get organised between yesterday’s announcement and the actual Election Day, when in fact yesterday he could have given a much more generous period of two-and-a-half months. Of course, if he had given the election date at the April 8 dissolution of Parliament, the Opposition and indeed the country as a whole would have had a whole 90 days to prepare.
Nonetheless, UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and COP leader Winston Dookeran have both vowed to forge a pact to fight the election united in a one-to-one contest against the ruling party. The duo met yesterday in Couva to consider an Accord worked out by each party’s technical team late into the night on Thursday at Emerald Plaza, St Augustine.
So now both the governing and Opposition parties must act fast to make themselves as presentable to the electorate.
The Opposition forces must promptly agree to a manifesto, and the “brass tacks” of how to actually fight the election vis a vis the allocation of seats (and maybe even ministries). The Opposition must prove that they can both win an election and just as importantly, stay together afterwards if chosen to govern. The Government must address reports of some traditional PNM voters vowing to stay home on Election Day, particularly concerns over non-accountability raised in the Uff Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Udecott.
The return of former Udecott head, Calder Hart, to Trinidad, albeit briefly, may or may not help to do damage control to the whole Udecott saga, although Manning has so far strenuously avoided mentioning Udecott, Calder Hart, or the Uff Report at any PNM rallies. So the bell has sounded. History shows that the PNM wins when facing a split Opposition, while the Opposition forces win when in a united front against the PNM. As things stand now, each side has everything to play for.