The pain of political opportunism Guest editorial
Guyana Chronicle
September 18, 2002

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CALL IT influence of the media or the force of public opinion, if you wish.
What really matters is that Prime Minister Patrick Manning felt compelled to hastily back-track, somersault really, on his surprising decision to release some 1.9 hectares of State land to the controversial Jamaat-al-Muslimeen.

Criticisms of 'political opportunism', with an eye at the coming October 7 general election, were swift in coming within two days of his disclosure last week of a decision that the government would release to Yasin Abu Bakr's Muslimeen group the 1.9 hectares of land adjacent to the 1.5 hectares already owned and occupied by the Jamaat at Mucarapo Road.

The price of political opportunism could be very costly.

In a clear and determined move to cut losses for his People's National Movement (PNM) at the polls, Manning lost no time in declaring that he was bowing to public opinion in rescinding his decision to give the portion of state land to Abu Bakr's organisation.

The 'Trinidad Express' was in the frontline of critics of Manning's decision last week to hand over the land, long a source of dispute, and ruled by the courts to be state property.

The 'Express' pointedly accused the Prime Minister of "a betrayal of trust of the people of Trinidad and Tobago", and named among them the President of the twin-island republic, ANR Robinson, who was one of the brutalised hostages of the Muslimeen's abortive coup of July 1990.

Faced as he is in an acknowledged tight race to be back in power, having been controversially appointed as Prime Minister by the President last Christmas Eve to head a government, after his PNM and Basdeo Panday's United National Congress both tied with 18 seats each at the December 10, 2001 general election, Manning is desperately anxious to widen his net to attract support.

Even, it seems from a high profile and very controversial religious/political organisation like the Jamaat that has made no secret of its penchant for high-handed, extra-parliamentary tactics, and worse, to achieve its objectives.

That Manning's announcement to give the state land to the Jamaat followed Abu Bakr's public announcement the previous day of endorsement of the PNM for the October 7, only made matters worse for timing and the inescapable negative message such a move by the PNM administration conveyed to the nation.

By any set of criteria the PNM leader and Prime Minister goofed. It was a clumsy political faux pas, coming, as it did, as his party was completing arrangements for the official launch on Sunday evening of its campaign for the October 7 poll.

Painful as it must have been for him to eat humble pie, it is, nevertheless, to be assumed that the Prime Minister would have minimised, by his quick about-face, the damage to result from an act of political opportunism within weeks of a new general election.

It is a dangerous game being 'a man for all seasons' in politics, Mr. Manning.
(Reprinted from yesterday's `Daily Nation' of Barbados)