With the defection of San Fernando Mayor Marlene Coudray to the camp of the United National Congress (UNC), two political bloggers in Trinidad and Tobago are questioning the continued viability of the Congress of the People (COP) as a separate entity. The Congress of the People began as a break-away party from the United National Congress, but the two entities came together to contest the 2010 parliamentary elections – and won – ousting the incumbent People's National Movement (PNM).
The coalition People's Partnership government is still in office, but Coudray, who is the current mayor of the southern city of San Fernando (a major hub) and former candidate for the San Fernando West seat on a COP ticket, was elected as one of the deputy leaders of the UNC at the party's recent internal elections. Coudray received a total of 7,635 votes, defeating runner-up and Minister of Health Fuad Khan by 2307 votes.
Initially, Phillip Edward Alexander felt that the defection itself was not of great significance but that the responses from the leadership of the COP were quite revealing – at least as it relates to the state of the party:
In my view Marlene Coudray is spent political capital and were it not for the cold wet slap of embarrassment to the COP may not have even made news. The big story here is the gaping inconsistencies in every position taken by the COP since the announcement, and the lack of real leadership in response.
Alexander's assessment of the COP's status within the People's Partnership was grim :
Now the COP is caught again like a deer in the headlights, stuck for choice, not sure who to blame or how to remain valid in a UNC government still cleverly disguised as a partnership to fool those who could only support a UNC government second hand through another Party. That the UNC is comfortable with this arrangement shows how important the hold on power is to them, but that the COP is okay with it shows how little self respect still remains in the Party.
A few days later, the blogger hypothesized that what he dubbed “Marlene-gate” may have been a strategic move on the part of the UNC:
The UNC claims that they did not ‘poach’ Marlene Coudray and they are right; on the contrary to the COP's claims, what happened was the UNC's advanced team (in preparation for the next general elections) had long made a deal with her and were grooming her to be used in Point Fortin…against incumbent PNM Paula Gopei-Scoon. (sic) This was why she was approved as a Mayor in a UNC dominated Council, and, were it not for this would have been rejected out of hand when initially proposed.
Alexander also considered an alternative plan:
The reason for the accelerated program and the ‘snatch and grab’ manner in which she was secured in the the bosom of the UNC is because of a strong rumor that the San Fernando East constituency [currently held by former Prime Minister Patrick Manning of the PNM] may soon be up for grabs. The Party needs to ‘sanitize’ her quickly with its (UNC) members, and what better way than to add her to Kamal's (Moonilal's) slate for the upcoming internal elections? If and when that by-election is announced, she will be announced as the UNC candidate to contest that seat as the deal has already been done.
Rhoda Bharath thought that the COP's response was weak, and an indication of its limited influence within the government:
Prakash Ramadhar trying to sound firm, but not too firm…because I think he fraid if he upset the Rani he might loss he Government Wuk…..so he saying that the poaching act could…maybe….might…affect the Partnership!
After the party's internal elections on March 25th, Bharath linked to a mainstream media article which documented longstanding difficulties between Coudray and the COP, commenting:
…after all that bluster and grand charge from Joseph Toney and Prakash Ramadhar this week; and all the comments about how the ‘poaching’ of party members by the UNC is a dangerous thing etc…and Marlene taunting Prakash to say she is not an egg, she can’t be poached (10 pts to Marlene with that inaccurate response to a word whose meaning she unclear on)…is to wake up this morning and find out that is more than the pestle in the mortar and that COP’s relationship with Marlene Coudray very complicated and shaky since 2010.
The blogger then advised her audience to be wary of what Coudray's election says about the UNC's base:
Keep an eye on the Coudray folks, from troublesome mayor, to troublesome COP member, too…follow where I going with this…keep an eye on it. I still find it hard to understand how after joining the party a week away from its internal elections Marlene managed to drum up over 7000 votes….are we saying that UNC members vote for slates and not for the policies and values that the individual stands for?