T&T’s Ramadhar has a challenge to stop the haemorrhage in support for COP

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to news item ‘Prakash Ramadhar new COP Leader’ (SN, Jul 4). The COP should be commended for utilizing a democratic method to choose its executives and leader.  The parties in Guyana should emulate this example and also allow members to choose their executives in a free and fair vote.

I was in Trinidad for the July 3 leadership elections and visited several polling stations to make an assessment of the outcome of the vote.  I also conducted a series of NACTA polls to track support for the candidates.  The findings were published in the Trinidad newspapers.

The outcome of the vote was not a surprise according to the findings of the NACTA polls.  From the outset in early June, the NACTA polls showed Prakash Ramadhar (Legal Affairs Minister) with a huge lead with some 52% of the votes and his opponents trailing way behind.  Over time, Anil Roberts (Sports Minister) had picked up some support and was giving Ramadhar a run for his money.  The other candidates were nowhere in the race in the pre-election surveys.

The exit voting assessment taken from voters turning up to vote on July 3, especially in central and south Trinidad, also revealed a huge victory for Ramadhar.  Voting went well although the turnout was small, just over 5,000 from an estimated membership of 38,000.

From my assessment, turnout in central and south, where Ramadhar is strong, was higher than in the north and in the east-west corridor where Roberts was stronger. The east-west and north are heavily populated by Africans and people of Mixed race.  Central and south are heavily populated by Indians. Roberts did better, from the exit poll assessment in the north and east-west than in other areas. But Ramadhar did very well everywhere showing all-round support among the ethnic groups in a racially divided nation.

The challenge facing Ramadhar is to stop the haemorrhage in support for the Congress of the People.  Supporters have been abandoning the party since Basdeo Panday was toppled as leader of the UNC and have been returning to the UNC, their home party.  The COP splintered from the UNC.  It was founded in 2006 with Winston Dookeran resigning as leader of the UNC and accepting the COP leadership. The party contested elections in 2007 confident it would win but it failed to win a seat.  It won six seats in 2010 because of the support generated from the UNC.  If an election were to be held now, the COP is not likely to win a seat, not even in an alliance as happened last year. Voters have turned away from the party because of the failure of its MPs to serve constituents. And the party has not been able to win over support from disenchanted PNM supporters.

Supporters of the COP like Ramadhar; he has a very charming, charismatic, soft-spoken personality.  I have known him since the 1990s while conducting polls in Trinidad. He was a UNC activist and attorney for Basdeo Panday.  But he has been out of favour with UNC supporters ever since he broke with the UNC and became a COP candidate in 2007, when he was crushed at the polls. Ramadhar will have to find a way to win back the confidence of the UNC followers if he and the COP are to make any headway in T&T politics.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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