THE recent reassignment of WPA co-leader, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, to another ministerial position within the Cabinet has, not unexpectedly, ignited much debate in the media. This is understandable, given the high-profile nature of the Education Ministry, which Dr. Roopnaraine headed. Indeed, some detractors of the government have labelled the move a demotion for the WPA leader. But President Granger has made it abundantly clear that Dr. Roopnaraine remains a trusted colleague in whom he continues to have confidence. Dr. Roopnaraine in turn has reiterated that he serves at the pleasure of the president and looks forward to his new assignment at the Ministry of the Public Service.
Dr. Roopnaraine’s party, the WPA, had in the wake of the announcement complained that it had not been consulted prior to the decision being made and requested a meeting with the president. The WPA has not contested the president’s right to reassign ministers, but was very strong in its regret that there was not prior consultation. The party suggested that this is a problem that pre-dated the Roopnaraine reassignment. Minister of State Joe Harmon insisted that the President did consult with the WPA and Dr. Roopnaraine.
The President went on to explain that the way the coalition Government is structured, is that there are representatives of the parties in the Cabinet and in the National Assembly; and it is really a responsibility of the representatives of that party in the Cabinet [and National Assembly] to ensure that they keep the [party members and] the executives briefed on what is taking place in the Government.”
The WPA and the President met on Saturday and if statements from the Ministry of the Presidency and Harmon, along with one from the WPA, are anything to go by, it would appear as if the two sides have hammered out whatever differences there were between them. Minister Harmon told the media that the WPA remains an integral part of the coalition. According to the minister, “I think that the respect for the President’s decision was there throughout and, quite contrary to what some people out there are saying, the WPA is a very strong part of the partnership and a very strong part of our coalition Government.”
The WPA expressed similar sentiments in an initial statement to the media. According to the party, the talks were “cordial and fraternal,” and it expressed some degree of satisfaction with the outcome. It stressed that the WPA was “satisfied that there is a commitment on both sides to mutually address areas of concerns and contention and to work to strengthen relations within both the APNU and the wider coalition.”
This episode is yet another reminder that managing a coalition government is a very difficult and complex undertaking. The coalition government is really a merger of a coalition of parties in the form of the APNU with another party, the Alliance For Change (AFC). Experience has shown that coalitions by their very nature are unpredictable and volatile, given the fact that the parties are often glued together by the singular need to win office. In our case, matters are much more delicate, given the fact that the three major parties in the coalition — PNC, AFC and WPA — come from vastly different traditions and orientations.
The coalition is obviously mindful that any appearance of discord in its ranks would be exploited by the opposition PPP, which projects itself as a government in waiting. The more the PPP could project the coalition as shaky, the more it would be able to make its case for a return to office. Already we have seen in the media its leading members trying to exploit the Roopnaraine issue to press home its long-held view that the largest party in the coalition has a hegemonic agenda.
Whether this issue hurts the coalition or not would depend on how the leaderships of the WPA and the PNC handle their relations in the near and medium terms. It is obvious that the WPA is divided on how to treat with its role in government as can be gleaned from the fact that some of its leading members have been openly critical of the government. In all this mix, what is clear is that the coalition could ill afford any prolonged public spat between the WPA and its partners.