?In announcing the accord between her political party, United National Congress, and Congress of the People, Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared that "politics is a civilised form of war." The Opposition Leader was explaining why the accord was not being made public, in concert with the announcement of a formalised agreement between the two parties to contest the general election on May 24. Concerned that political "enemies" would make use of the details of such an agreement on the hustings, she chose to keep even the broad scope of the agreement secret. But Persad-Bissessar must also be aware that her battles are not only with the party in power, but also with the reservations and concerns of undecided voters, and even the committed supporters of the UNC and COP who are likely to have concerns about the new arrangements. The parties in opposition have, since the PNM returned to power in 2007, cut a less than acceptable profile as an alternative to the sitting government.
With just a few weeks to go before the electorate returns to the polls, the UNC-COP coalition has a lot of work to do to persuade the public that it is a viable political alternative as a unified opposition force. Working against this coalition of necessity is the shaky history of such political accommodations in this country's political past. The 1986 merging of the Organisation for National Reconstruction, the Tapia House Movement, the United Labour Front and the Democratic Action Congress swept the PNM out of power in an ignominious 33-3 defeat. Within two years, that amalgamation party began to collapse, with the defection of Basdeo Panday and six Members of Parliament. By the 1991 election, the triumphant cry of "One Love" that had swept the NAR so decisively into power had dwindled to two seats in Tobago.
Nor can Winston Dookeran and Kamla Persad-Bissessar rely on the results of the 2007 elections as any guide to their future prospects either. While the statistics of that election, which benefited from a 66 per cent voter turnout, suggest that the UNC (29.7 per cent of the vote) and CoP (22.6 per cent) of two years ago would have been a potent force in combination against the PNM (45.8 per cent), that kind of arithmetic remains purely hypothetical. The electorate will be swayed, on election day, by the parties and plans presented to them for their choice, not by imaginary amalgamations. The challenge facing the UNC and COP is, at core, one of honest and effective salesmanship, persuading the voting public in 36 days that it is a real and identifiable political entity that represents the best of its component parts.
There is no room in this constrained time frame, with this level of voter anxiety, for anything but absolute transparency in articulating the architecture, frameworks and proposals of this swiftly-stitched-together political animal. In a world that emphasises openness and information sharing, the UNC-COP alliance is not only challenged by the slings and arrows of its political nemesis, but by the need to persuade an electorate, wise enough to demand greater levels of political disclosure than ever before, that it is more than a series of handshakes of convenience offered to the media's cameras. There can be no backroom deals, no unwritten "understandings," no promises to political partners that the voting public need not be aware of. Facing a political rival with a recent public history of quite visible activity, both positive and negative, all that the new political coupling presented by Winston Dookeran and Kamla Persad-Bissessar can offer is clarity about its plans for Trinidad and Tobago and its manifesto.
That document must be declared and published early, to allow voters a chance to evaluate properly and compare its proposals for the nation's future with those that the PNM has been articulating continuously during the last few years. With no time to tease, the UNC-COP alliance must articulate a position of openness, discussion and transparency on its platform, to stand any chance of distinguishing itself in a startlingly short time frame, while winning the trust of a public increasingly capable of discerning the difference between PR puffery and realistic planning.