How strong is UNC arm in the House?

Member of Parliament for Mayaro Rushton Paray speaks during a press conference at the Couva Chamber of Commerce Hall. - Photo by Ayanna Kinsale
Member of Parliament for Mayaro Rushton Paray speaks during a press conference at the Couva Chamber of Commerce Hall. - Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

It has been a week since Rushton Paray issued a public challenge to the authority of Kamla Persad-Bissessar. If the Mayaro MP, in calling for UNC internal elections, was seeking to bring about a palace coup, he has, like many failed coup leaders, now discovered he does not enjoy widespread support.

As much as he might finesse it, his call for elections was a call for new leadership and was largely rejected as such.

However, Ms. Persad-Bissessar’s overkill reaction – she and her allies have spoken of “PNM operatives” and secret meetings – is disappointing. Instead of highlighting her strength, it highlights her vulnerability.

Disagreement is not disloyalty, something the UNC leader herself noted in 2010 when she took over the party.

“Free speech allows for a marketplace of ideas,” she said back then. Today, she falls back on the trope of the maximum leader, resurrecting the biblical edict: “Whoever is not with me is against me.”

Yet it could be that the Opposition leader has little choice but to breathe fire, given the Westminster-inspired constitutional system she operates in.

Mr. Paray has not succeeded in inspiring rebellion, but he has raised questions about the strength of the UNC’s parliamentary arm. Two other elected MPs have now voiced approval for the call for elections.

In the wake of last year’s Electoral College proceedings, which saw at least three UNC members break from the party line, there is widespread speculation over what will happen when the next division is taken in the House after Easter. Electoral College proceedings were done by secret ballot; it is unclear if the outcome might be replicated in full view.

The Mayaro MP has already undermined the strength of the party’s numbers in the House: he announced his call on March 22 at a press conference held on the same day as Private Member’s Day, the traditional day in Parliament for opposition business.

Ms. Persad-Bissessar’s options going forward are not good. She could attempt to win over the three voices against her management. This would be most prudent. Or she could ignore them.

This would allow UNC members, and the public, to see the impact of any moves these figures will make in the House. But this will damage the party if those moves involve breaking the party line. Because the margins in our Parliament are so slender – thanks to the first-past-the-post system of voting in general elections – this kind of fracturing undermines the sense of a government-in-waiting.

Whatever happens, Ms. Persad-Bissessar has crucial decisions to make come May. She could deselect all three as general election candidates.

In the case of Mr. Paray, this might be unavoidable since Mayaro, formerly Ortoire/Mayaro, is a highly competitive seat once held by the PNM.


"How strong is UNC arm in the House?"

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