By Jai Parasram
How times change!
There is a popular saying that a day can be an eternity in politics and if you look at the politics of Trinidad and Tobago today you would see the evidence manifest itself in the fortunes of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), which was born in 2013 following the refusal of the United National Congress (UNC) to nominate Jack Warner as its candidate in the Chaguanas West by election.
For those who are unfamiliar with the long and complicated story, let me try to tell it as simply as I could.
Mr. Warner was a senior minister in the People’s Partnership (PP) government but in April 2013 he resigned from cabinet following the publication of a report that alleged that he was involved in certain shady dealings while he was a top executive of the world football body, FIFA, charges that he has refuted. He also charged that a “cabal” in the government had influenced the Prime Minister to accept his resignation.
He also resigned as chairman of the UNC and as the MP for Chaguanas West, declaring that UNC was in his DNA and that he would seek the nomination for the by election triggered by his sudden resignation. The party didn’t nominate him and he reacted by forming the ILP, nominating himself as the candidate and defeating the UNC’s Khadijah Ameen to regain the seat in Parliament, this time as an opposition MP.
His party quickly gained national attention and attracted a large membership, reaching more than 100,000 according to his accounts.
But politics changes like the weather and the ILP’s popularity quickly waned, with a disappointing result in the 2013 local government election in which the party won only three of the 136 seats, to be followed by a loss in a by election in St Joseph. This was followed by a string of resignations including the leader of his party’s youth arm and ILP chairman, Robin Montano.
More recently Warner’s founding colleague, Anna Deonarine-Rampersad, walked away and complained that the ILP had lost its moorings and had become a satellite of the opposition People’s National Movement (PNM). She quit shortly after former Senate Vice President Lyndira Oudit became political leader of the ILP.
But then in a surprise move two Sundays ago Oudit quit her post, saying she was nothing but a figurehead leader; the party’s executive handed the leadership to Warner.
And on Saturday the ILP announced that it would have candidates in only 23 seats in the 2015 general election, 21 of which are currently held by members of the PP coalition.
The ILP decided to steer clear of some PNM and UNC strongholds. For example, the party said it won’t contest Arouca, San Fernando East, La Brea, Point Fortin, two of the three Diego Martin Seats and four of the five seats in the Port of Spain area. On the UNC/PP side it is not fighting in Oropouche East and West, Couva South, Naparima and Princes Town.
This strategy could stump the average political commentator but there is nothing startling about what the party is planning. The ILP knows that it no longer has the support or membership that it counted on in 2013. There are reports of an exodus of UNC members who had flocked to the party primarily because of Warner’s track record in the PP government and as an effective MP while serving with the UNC.
Those leaving – including people like Montano and Denonarine-Rampersad – were saying Warner was no longer the person they knew and many of the grassroots UNC faithful decided they would be more comfortable back home in the UNC.
Saturday’s announcement would likely trigger more speculation of a PNM/ILP alliance especially looking at how the ILP has lined up the constituencies with the party going after 21 PP incumbents and only two from the PNM. The story is going to get even more traction because of the announcement by both Keith Rowley and Colm Imbert that the PNM is no longer holding firm to the Patrick Manning policy of “winning alone and losing alone”, which deprived Manning of the government in 1995.
Warner is no fool. He understands where the PNM truly stands. While he might have an arrangement to enter into a coalition with the PNM the message from that party’s leadership is clear that Warner would be welcome only if the PNM cannot win a majority and only if Warner can deliver critical seats to put the PNM in office.
Warner knows that winning government alone in no longer possible so he is going after his best option, which is to try to create a political situation where neither the PNM nor the PP wins a majority. If he could do that and win enough support to become the kingmaker with one or more seats, then he wins and the two dominant political groups would have to dance according to the music his band is playing.
How possible is that?
A day is an eternity in politics. We’ll just have to wait and see.