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Sunday 18 November 2018
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New parties vie for political space in TT

THE CONSTANTLY shif-ting political landscape of Trinidad and Tobago has seen several political parties rise, fall, merge, split, reunite and reincarnate. In this nation’s relatively short democratic history, 36 different parties have contested elections.

However, only three of them have been successful over the years – the People’s National Movement (PNM), the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) and the United National Congress (UNC).

In keeping with that well-established political trend, within the past few months a new crop of parties has emerged ahead of general elections constitutionally due in late 2007.

Among them is the Democratic National As-sembly (DNA) whose chairman Dara Healy explained that the party is, “inspired and motivated” by its core principles of “Decency, Nationalism and Accoun-tability.”

“We intend to contest the next elections in order to achieve this goal,” Healy told Sunday Newsday.

Among the DNA’s objectives, she explained, are to, “transform our society th-rough the philosophy of community and through tangible action in our communities and to widen and deepen the level of political debate and analysis in the country, to the point where people begin to believe again that Government is truly by the people, of the people and for the people.”

Although the party intends to contest the upcoming general election it is not yet fully operational. DNA lead-er Dr Kirk Meighoo, a political scientist, conceded that “we don’t have active members registered for the party.”

“We are now at the awareness stage and we have not yet gotten to the mobilisation stage.”

Another emerging political entity, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), is led by former political leader of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) Dr Carson Charles. This party is the product of a recent alliance of two emerging parties with the NAR.

When questioned about possible fallout due to the new party’s connection to the NAR, which has suffered a series of electoral defeats over several years, Charles was quick to point out, “The NDA is not the same as the NAR. That (NAR) was the product of a particular experiment, the product of strong political parties with independent programmes and views. This (NDA) is a matter of people working together for a while.”

Charles said the NDA has an active membership consisting of NAR, Democratic Party of Trinidad and Tobago (DPTT) and NDA supporters. He estimated that the party has about 3,000 members, although its official launch was attended by about 300 people.

Charles is optimistic that the party’s political fortunes will improve.

“A lot of things happen quickly in the heat of elections. People tend to get interested when the election nears,” he said.

On the issue of voter support, Healy of the DNA said the party “will mobilise support by going to the electorate in a targeted and consistent manner.”

He added, “We have a great deal to offer the people of this nation and we have the financial capability.”

The country’s newest political entity is the Congress of the People (COP). At its launch a few weeks ago, political leader Winston Dookeran declared, “From today onwards, the main challenger to the PNM shall be known as the Congress.”

Dookeran, who resigned as leader of the United National Congress (UNC) when he launched the COP, said he formed his own party because he had become “the man in the middle of a most vicious power play.”

While the COP has been getting more attention than the other newcomers on the political scene, the party suffered something of a setback recently. The Budget debate was widely seen as the COP’s opportunity to highlight its objectives in a national forum. However, the former Central Bank Governor was absent at a critical stage of the debate and missed his chance to make a contribution.

While the COP has been in the limelight since its inception, leaders of the other new parties are not deterred by this fact and are confident they will soon catch the attention of TT’s electorate.

In fact, Deputy Political Leader of the NDA, Steve Alvarez, says most people consider the COP to be a new political party with the same faces. He says the bitter UNC /COP feud is the biggest reason why new parties are needed in this country.

“What is disappointing is that there seems to be a deliberate effort by past politicians to occupy that critical space that dictates the future of the politics. They try to sidestep the emerging voices which are the future of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.

Are new parties with new policies enough to break the bipolar UNC/PNM stronghold?

According to Deputy Political Leader of the Movement for National Development (MND) Mandavi Tewarie, her party is not going to set unrealistic goals but will “target the 60 percent of voters who do not traditionally vote.”

The NDA had originally been an alliance between the NAR, DPTT, DNA and the MND. However, the current alliance does not include the DNA or MND.

Tewarie said the MND wanted to be part of the alliance but was sidelined when the DNA got involved.

“They abandoned us when they went with the DNA,” she said of the other new parties.

Charles has his own spin on that situation: “Talks didn’t work out and people didn’t want to have the alliance.”

The MND pulled out of the arrangement on June 26 and Gerald Yetming, former Chairman of the NDA, is now closely aligned with the COP.

A DNA spokesman told Sunday Newsday, “We are not willing to give up our DNA identity, so that anyone wishing to speak with us would need to understand this. In any event, the only people we would consider having any discussions with would be Mr Panday or Mr Manning.”

With the exception of the DNA, other newly formed parties all say that they are open to alliances.

TT’s political landscape has been changing frequently since 1965 when the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) split into several dissident factions over the ruling PNM’s Industrial Stabilisation Act. Vernon Jamadar seized leadership of the DLP from Rudranath Capildeo in 1969, only to be ousted by Alloy Lequay in 1972. His sudden removal led Jamadar to form the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP), while DLP members joined with members of a dissident faction of the party to form the United Democratic Labour Party (UDLP).

Shifting party politics has taken the nation through ANR Robinson’s departure from the PNM and his formation of the Tobago-based Democratic Action Congress (DAC). He later entered into an alliance with the United Labour Front (ULF), the Tapia House Movement and the Organisation for National Recon-struction (ONR), to form the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). The latter scored big in 1986, removing the long-reigning People’s National Move-ment (PNM) from power.

Political party instability has taken the nation through former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday’s split with the NAR and the formation of the United National Congress (UNC). Following the 17-17-2 election impasse of 1995, there was the emergence of Team Unity led by former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj who had a bitter fall-out with Panday.

The latest political shift has been the move by former UNC political leader Winston Dookeran to form the COP.

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