Voters looking to support the prime minister on September 7th might be astonished to discover that there is no party listed as “Kamla” on the ballot paper.
Given the huge investment in marketing “Kamla”, a voter should be forgiven for assuming that “Kamla” was the newest party in town. Imagine the surprise when the ghosts of UNC, COP, TOP and NJAC jump out inside the polling booth.
The PP is not simply a partnership that has fractured; it is partnership that has boiled down, like callaloo, to a political concentrate in a cauldron called Kamla. Every individual ingredient has simply melted away to the point of dissolution.
To re-phrase Eric Williams’ famous declaration, inside this partnership there is no Mother UNC, no Mother COP, no Mother TOP, no Mother NJAC. There is only Mother Kamla.
And, to emphasise the point, the cover of her manifesto and her daily barrage of ads are crafted to eliminate all traces of the parties of the 2010 People’s Partnership, including the once powerful UNC. Even today’s public meeting in Couva is promoted as an event by Kamla 2015.
If this is not maximum power with a vengeance, it is hard to imagine what else could be.
This re-casting of the PP in the image and likeness of Kamla probably has as much to do with the polls that have repeatedly identified Persad-Bissessar as the Partnership’s strongest asset—as if, in the leader-obsessed culture of Caribbean politics, this is not an ordinary political reality.
It may also have to do with the resort to political strategies borrowed from a far different political environment.
The T&T general election and the US Presidential election are two completely different animals.
In the United States, presidential campaign strategies are developed for elections that pit one candidate against another, as in Obama vs McCain. The entire campaign revolves around individuals—their character, their policies, their political records etc.
By modeling the Kamla vs Rowley campaign after an Obama vs McCain campaign, the government’s political strategists are missing the key point of difference between the US Presidential system and the West Indian variant of the Westminster system.
The US electoral system is not only about choosing presidential candidates; it is a multi-layered system that includes several elections and power structures, all the way up from the community level. At every level, different interests determine which way people go.
This is why it is possible to have a Democrat in the White House and a Republican majority in Congress; or for people to vote one way at the local level and quite another at the national level.
These are the checks and balances that are designed to keep leaders accountable.
In this old British colony, the top-down political system is designed to protect the power at the top by providing guaranteed majorities in the House and the Senate. When, as occasionally happens, the system fails and the majority is lost, only then will the leader collapse.
Until then, the power of the prime minister is almost absolute.
What we have with the Kamla2015 campaign, therefore, is American style without the substance of American politics (as unhappy as Americans are with that, too). This is the kind of cultural confusion that have produced Naipaul’s mimic men and today’s mimic woman.
For a season of unusual length, Campaign 2015 has been almost surreptitious. Today’s Kamla2015 public meeting in Couva comes a full ten weeks after the party’s May 26 campaign launch at Constantine Park, Macoya.
Within two days, the momentum was scuttled by the dramatic arrest of Jack Warner. For all of June and most of July, the PP campaign went underground and electronic as Warner commanded centrestage, bussin’ mark after mark and titillating town with one expose after another.
Soap opera style, the nation tuned in to Warner’s weekly news conferences to see him release tapes and documents with jaw-dropping references to the prime minister’s work habits, her property dealings, the police finding of marijuana at her private residence, payments to various government figures by him and by business people… and so on.
Warner was relentless until mid-July when Sunday Express reporter Anika Gumbs reproduced a series of cheques issued from the Chaguanas West UNC Constituency Office in a story headlined “Jack Paid Himself”.
As if marking his quarry, Warner changed the tempo of his attack as the outlines of a UNC counter-strategy began to emerge. Like Warner, the PNM also gave the impression of marking the PP’s campaign, a possible reflection of the differences between their respective war chests.
Perhaps guilt-stricken by an over-indulgence in political bacchanal, the public has begun calling on the parties to get serious and lift their campaigns to some higher plane. Finally, this weekend, a full two months after the election date was announced and with three weeks to Polling Day, the campaign seems ready to start.
On the hustings, the campaign that had been shrunk to an orchestrated battle between Kamla and Rowley, is now set to take flight. Out on the platform and on the wide open streets, it will take a lot more than wordplay, camera angles, good lighting and prepared texts to convince the undecided voter.
Much more than Kamla or Rowley, it will take the power of an entire team to communicate its grasp of the challenges facing the nation and to convince the electorate its ability to navigate T&T through the tougher times ahead.
As we come to decision day 2015, there is no place for the politics of one man or one woman. What is needed is a team, gifted with competence and compassion and with the will to inspire us to our higher selves.
If we don’t have it now, we’d better start building it next.