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Govt weaknesses, UNC’s Barataria bid

Published: 
Saturday, July 14, 2018
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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley may have chortled at the quips which he delivered on Thursday. But he was also very serious in frankly admitting to weaknesses in the anti-crime fight and Government’s responsibilities on this.

When asked that day about the fact both his past and present Public Administration Ministers were and are ill, he quipped with a laugh, “All I could tell you is if I offer you a portfolio there - don’t accept it.”

If that Ministry’s duties have seen both past Minister Maxie Cuffie and present Minister Marlene McDonald falling ill – whether with pre-existing conditions or not – the situation indicates more than medical weaknesses among PNM’s team.

PNMites confirmed that a few weeks ago, Cuffie received doctors’ approval to return home by month-end, following recent neurosurgery. He’s completing therapy and will take up the post of Minister in Public Administration on return. How much help he’ll be to McDonald with her medical issues remains ahead.

Her situation presents certain challenges for Government, particularly evident from muddled messaging on the matter from both her constituency’s releases – which seemed to want to protect information on her – and Government which communicated a more serious picture.

Credibility on Government’s image from the at-odds messaging is less an issue than McDonald’s health itself.

After admission to St Clair Medical Centre last Saturday - with bronchitis later found to be as severe as pneumonia - by Wednesday she’d indicated to Government she was being discharged, but was staying on to have fluid suctioned from her lungs and nebulizing (medication via mist).

She was discharged, home Thursday, speaking in strong voice – with ripe cough – watching reports on her illness. Yesterday there was Government silence on claims about her condition. She only said she was “tired.” McDonald’s sick leave includes next week.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar texted her get-well wishes. UNC MP Ganga Singh has hypoglycemia aids he bought for McDonald since her recent bout with that.

However, Government manages two ministers with health issues in the same ministry, more immediate challenge is Monday’s Belmont East and Barataria by-elections.

Government in a negative term seeking to hold two local government seats, one in an Opposition-held marginal constituency.

Opposition targetting Barataria to reinforce footing in a constituency it holds.

Each trying to improve political face.

Belmont electorate remains 3,237, as it was for 2016 Local Government polls when PNM won with 744 votes to UNC’s 49 (amid 34 per cent voter turnout).

Barataria has 10 fewer voters than its 2016 electorate of 10,217. PNM won the seat with 1,898 votes to UNC’s 1,506.

That Government is taking seriously UNC’s bid for Barataria was confirmed by Rowley’s letter issued Thursday night to “Dear Resident” (of Barataria).

Engineered to counter Persad-Bissessar’s recent lobby of Muslim voters, his 12-plus paragraphs stressed elections shouldn’t be decided on “religion, fear and misinformation.”

Persad-Bissessar tore up the letter at a meeting that same night.

PNM’s attempted to avoid making the polls a referendum on Rowley and Government’s performance, portraying the campaign as one of the local issues. But the fact PNM’s also campaigning on the basis of its recent 126-page “Never Again, Kamla!” booklet shows its employing general election tactics also.

PNMites walked Barataria endlessly, knowing residents by name. PNM’s poll last week showed a 15-16 point lead.

Secure with Belmont, they believe, it’s a question of whether UNC saves its deposit there. UNC whip David Lee admits, “Belmont’s a hard fight, but we expect more than the 49 votes of 2016.”

UNC’s Belmont campaigning was led by deputy Jearlean John. MPs Barry Padarath, Ganga Singh, Lee, Fazal Karim headed Barataria’s campaign.

Monday’s results will confirm the level of apathy in both areas, whether UNC’s traditional support outnumbers youth voters in Barataria and if its initial projection on the Muslim vote is accurate - or if this waned recently.

On Monday night, PNMites will await results at Balisier House while UNC gathers at each campaign office.

Monday’s polls coincide with the targetted arrival date of the controversial Galleon’s Passage. Exactly who sails home politically – PNM or UNC – remains to unfold.

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