The trinidad Guardian / In case Government had hoped that internal Opposition issues-and possible division-over the UNC’s leadership election might have yielded political dividends, no such luck. Yet.
National matters still topped the list yesterday-including the Senate’s 2018 Budget debate which concluded in unexpectedly “lively” fashion courtesy angry casino workers and certain politicos.
While the Opposition’s denied organising the breakout behaviour by the groups-which followed after UNC Senator Kadijah Ameen asked if Government would meet the workers-the Opposition did facilitate casino sector representative Jabez Johnson as a temporary senator for debate. Workers came to support him, some initially said.
Sparking another heated segment of debate was UNC’s other temporary Senator, ex-Central Bank governor Jwala Rambaran-giving the Opposition two extra opportunities for spotlight, apart from its allotted six speakers.
Rambaran’s attack on all things PNM caused a banker-versus-banker blowout and counter-attack from Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte, also ex banker.
The former pelting biting sarcasm, the latter outraged roars.
“Members, let’s take the temperature down,” Senate President Christine Kangaloo advised at the peak of battle. Remains to be seen if new UNC star Rambaran appears within platform or party roles.
Or how soon Le Hunte, whose decibel-strong delivery compensated for curbed content, assumes PNM frontline speaker status.
Rambaran’s debut was particularly noted by Government. OPM?Minister Stuart Young-who’s not a Senator-appeared during his delivery, monitoring it (and frequently muttering).
Government would have gotten in rebuttals to assorted developments and reinforced its 2018 Budget at last night’s San Fernando public meeting.
Biggest achievement so far-cutting the fuel subsidy from $503m to zero-came with little fanfare during debate, save mention by Energy’s Franklin Khan and Finance’s Allyson West (her colleague, Colm Imbert probably not being the best to pronounce on the riot-free achievement).
Budget negatives will have to be balanced by positives in 2018 since Government-and other parties-prepare for major challenges with 2019 Local Government elections.
With the implementation window for hard measures limited to August 2018, the stage appears set otherwise. Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Soon on Wednesday noted IMF economic growth projections of 3.6 and 3.2 per cent in 2018 and 2019.
Reinforcement of leadership stocks on both sides are already evident. Under fire for absence during recent floods, Prime Minister Keith Rowley visited UNC areas following Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s flood-touring.
Among several parties’ internal elections next month are COP’s November 19 leadership poll and PNM’s National Executive elections on November 12. Rowley’s leadership is, however, up for challenge next year.
UNC’s surprise move to reset its 2018 leadership election to its November 26 Executive election date has revealed simmering issues within the Opposition though no cracks; MP Ganga Singh’s querying of the process, so far only serving to consolidate certain MP support for Persad-Bissessar’s leadership.
Her bid for a fresh mandate follows criticism over 2015-16 concerning perceived failure of party institutions under her watch. Her profile and the party’s improved subsequently-thanks to Government failures-though at UNC’s June retreat, Singh and Dr Bhoe Tewarie spoke of the need to strengthen systems.
Up to then, only Natex elections were expected this year. Whether or not dissenting views triggered moves to push the leadership election earlier, if Natex polls alone were held this year and the executive fell into the hands of any group opposed to Persad-Bissessar, it could have had negative implications for her in 2018 leadership polls.
How much division might arise from the pre-emptive strike of shifting the leadership election date remains ahead, Persad-Bissessar’s supporters, however, believe Singh has played his hand.
Following UNC’s legal rebuff of his concerns yesterday, Singh said: “I maintain, I stood for principle.”
Tewarie however, said: “How much is all this helpful to UNC given T&T’s state and that this may put UNC in a box when T&T’s crying for leadership that puts country before party?”
UNC’s election campaign will likely supply answers.