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PM, Rowley make risky moves over Tobago

ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, January 20 2013

BOTH Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley have been making risky political moves ahead of tomorrow’s Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election.

The Prime Minister, in aggressively campaigning in Tobago last week on behalf of Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) candidate Ashworth Jack, has heightened what is at stake in the election for her and her Government. If the Tobago electorate rejects Jack, it would have come after Persad-Bissessar embarked on a campaign to woo Tobago over a series of events starting from a church service on Sunday and all the way to a rally on Friday, among other events. A rejection of Jack at the polls could, in the circumstances, be interpreted as a rejection of Persad-Bissessar.

This has always been somewhat the case, as the THA elections have come to be regarded as something of a mid-term for the People’s Partnership coalition. But the Prime Minister, in campaigning, has underlined what is at stake for her. Her aggressive wooing last week was a bold political move. The gamble here seems to be a calculation that Tobagonians are more likely to embrace Jack through association with her. Yet, there is equally the possibility that some Tobagonians may do the opposite. It is an intriguing puzzle which we can only begin to resolve on Monday, after the results become clear.

But if the Prime Minister is taking risks, so too is the Opposition Leader and the PNM. The PNM stance that it would not support the Tobago Bill 2013 risks alienating those in Tobago who want internal self-government.

Notwithstanding all the protest about the timing of the legislation, the fact of the matter remains that now is the opportunity for those who want to make headway on the issue of Tobago autonomy to act. The Opposition, by withdrawing itself from the process, is saying it will not contribute to improving the bill. This is a risky tactic because it is precisely because of the timing of the debate that the Opposition would have been in a position to make demands for changes to the legislation. Now, the Tobago electorate faces the prospect of the Government watering-down the bill in order to get the requisite Parliament majority needed for its passage without Opposition support.

Already, the Prime Minister has begun to exploit this faux pas. She has told rallies that Monday’s election is a referendum on the issue of internal self-governance and if Tobago wants autonomy it should vote TOP. This appeal was only made possible by the Opposition’s position. The PNM risks alienating those in Tobago concerned on the issue of self-governance who do not mind the timing of the bill. This comes after the fallout over the “Calcutta ship” remarks of Hilton Sandy which has not only affected the PNM in Tobago but also on the wider political landscape. The Parliament debate on the Tobago Bill 2013 was a missed opportunity for the PNM to recompense for any damage done by that scandal; to make the party appear forward-thinking, conciliatory and open to positive developments instead of negative.

That both parties are taking such risks is a sign that a lot is at stake in the election. With Local Government elections due later this year and a general election around the corner, the Tobago election might well be a key pivot.

Email: abagoo@newsday.co.tt

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