straight to the point – from different points of view

Kamla the grandmaster by Kevin Baldeosingh

Kamla the grandmaster by Kevin Baldeosingh

In chess, a player who is at a disadvantage will often try to complicate the board. This is a good strategy because although a complicated board increases the chances of either player making a mistake, any error is worse for the player who is in a better position.

This was the approach used by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (and, presumably, ad agency owner Ernie Ross) in her address to the nation two Mondays ago. The political chatterers have made much of the red herring nature of the firings and hirings, failing to realise that their own irrelevant responses proved just how effective Kamla’s empty speech was.
This is not only demonstrated by the amount of air spent discussing Police Complaints Authority director David West, but by the fact that a commenter’s race was the best predictor of their opinion on whether West was in the right or wrong—ie, almost all Indo commentators argued he should resign and almost all non-Indo ones argued he had done nothing wrong.
The most pertinent point, in my view, came from attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who pointed out that Mrs Persad-Bissessar, in her address, cited no law, regulation or code of ethics which West had broken nor had she explained how his post brought him into conflict with politicians.
Also irrelevant was commentators’ speculation about a rationale for firing Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith, since arbitrariness was the very point of Kamla’s reshuffle.
The elevation of non-entities like Garvin Nicholas and Raziah Ahmed, respectively and disrespectfully, to be Attorney General and Senate President reinforced this, sending a pointed message about prime ministerial autocracy to the Cabinet members who had remained unscathed.
As political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita notes in The Dictator’s Handbook, “The best way to stay in power is to keep the coalition small and, crucially, to make sure that every­one in it knows that there are plenty replacements for them.”
In all this, the only real puzzle was the firing of Gary Griffith. Given that lack of integrity is the main monkey on the Government’s back, it would have been politically bene­ficial for Kamla to retain Griffith who, from the time he took the National Security portfolio, loudly and repeatedly stated he was not going to tolerat­e the kind of political corruption that was fuelling the crime rate. So why did Kamla not keep him in the fold as she heads into a general election?
I can think of only three possible reasons, none of which excludes any other. The most benign is that prime ministers cannot tolerate any underling who defies them, especially when such defiance may threaten party financiers. If this is so, it also means Kamla understands, as poll numbers from previous elections demonstrate, that voters in this place do not actually vote out political parties because of corruption.
The second possibility is that Anand Ramlogan agreed to resign only on his own highly beneficial terms, which included Kamla firing Griffith even if such a move freed Griffith to reveal skeletons in Cabinet’s closet. If this is so, it means that Anand is aware of many more bones than Griffith, which would also explain why Kamla virtually defended her erstwhile Attorney General in her address.
The third possibility is that Kamla calculated Griffith would prove more dangerous to her prospects for re-election within Cabinet than outside it. In this context, she needed to deprive him of political office and the related protection of the State.
Given all this, both Kamla’s critics and her supporters have missed the point. It is not that she makes bad selections or that she is a leader who stands on principle. It is that all her decisions are determined solely by calculations about retaining unchecked power. So, even in the zugzwan­g she was forced into, Kamla lost her rook: but she remains the queen.

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