Daly Bread: Battling in Opposition space; can Paray or Mickela articulate feasible crime plan?

With increasing frequency, our editorial writers and commentators treat with our dismal crime situation, which is now oppressing the entire country.

The Trinidad Express newspaper has emphasized the link between deadly gang warfare and government make-work contracts that have been issued without credible accountability and safeguards for 40-odd years.

A forensic investigator at a crime scene.

This column has emphasized the frustration arising out of the colonial derived education system as well as the wider and dire inequality of opportunity as a stimulus for recruitment into anti-social and criminal activities.

Just last week Tuesday, the Trinidad Guardian editorial reiterated a number of the crime facilitating factors including: “easy access to firearms smuggled into the country from associates abroad; main intelligence agency in crisis; sub-par police detection rate”.

That editorial concluded that “the gangs are gaining too much ground”. It was published after the contest for Opposition space intensified during the immediately preceding days and was extensively covered in all media.

The current opposition, the United National Congress (the UNC), is locked in a deadly internal battle for the support of the base of the party.

UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) rings the bell at a 2023 local government election rally.
Photo: UNC

The national executive of the party, of which former Prime Minister (2010-2015) Kamla Persad-Bissessar (Kamla) is the leader, is opposed by a group led by Rushton Paray, member of parliament for Mayaro, who has on his slate two other sitting members of the House of Representatives and the overt support of two other members of that House.

The contest between the Kamla slate and the Paray slate will take place soon, on 15 June. That is only one part of the battle for the UNC base.

Longer term, another combatant in that battle is the party named the Patriotic Front led by Mickela Panday (Mickela), daughter of Basdeo Panday, the founding father of the UNC and the first UNC Prime Minister (1995-2001) preceding Kamla.

Mickela Panday speaks at the state funeral for her dad and former prime minister Basdeo Panday.

Mickela has been kept out of the UNC where she naturally belongs. She has opened nominations for potential candidates to contest all 41 seats in the House of Representatives. She and the UNC will be initially fishing for support in the same pond.

There may be many twists and turns in these UNC battles. For example, might Kamla be overthrown if more sitting House members join Paray and give the appropriate constitutional indication to the president of the Republic that they no longer support Kamla?

What if a political relationship develops between Paray and his slate and Mickela’s party?

Mayaro MP Rushton Paray.
Photo: Office of the Parliament 2023

Whatever the outcome of the internal UNC battle, the UNC, however comprised or allied, will be involved in a bigger external battle—that is the battle to win over the electoral support of persons who are not part of its traditional base. That is a battle it has twice lost under Kamla in 2015 and 2020.

It is probable that she has little or no clout left in that wider base.

It is also important to recall that when Basdeo Panday first became prime minister he was reliant on the support of ANR Robinson with the two Tobago seats.

UNC supporters cheer on their candidates during a 2023 Local Government Election rally.
Photo: UNC

In Kamla’s case, when she did win the general election in 2010, she did so in the guise of a Peoples’ Partnership—which put forward candidates for election and garnered support from outside the narrower, traditional UNC base.

I link both the UNC internal and external battles with the paramount issue of violent crime for a specific reason.

The current People’s National Movement (PNM) Government is widely seen as incapable of inhibiting the assault of violent crime on our oppressed population and, perhaps, even indifferent to it.

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds.

In a moderately well-functioning democracy it would be expected that, as part of the UNC battle for Opposition space and the broader battle to gain the trust and confidence of a wider public, contestants would be articulating policies intended to deal with violent crime.

Except that Kamla has made some melodramatic assertions about a broader legal capacity to counter-attack robbers, no other articulation has not been forthcoming.

Soon I will re-examine our democracy’s dysfunctional concentration on personalities and tribal loyalties.

UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar stands her ground on her proposed violent response to home invasions.
(via UNC)

However, in light of our electoral history, Paray and The Patriotic Front may soon have to share what their plans and policies are to combat violent crime.

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