“I see dead people”
The March 4th 2009 municipal election was but an opening act, a pre-game show watched excitedly by the uninitiated in the great game of politics; but, ultimately, a mere prelude to the real game ahead. The pre-game held no surprises; its ending was already known. The trouble is that where the real game is played no tickets are sold. And if tickets were sold, there’s no guarantee of seeing the game – even if played an arm’s length away. If the players were pointed out, the game might still not be understood because of the rules which can be ignored or changed at any time, without notice, by any of the players. The game has a beginning but no ending. Players enter or leave at any time. There are complex games within the game. Most frustrating is that a player can be running flat out in the game, doing the best for his team and still be politically dead in the game. Teammates will seldom tell another that he’s dead. They might not even recognize that he is dead. But he is.
Take the case of the recently sacked Minister of Culture. He was a professional; among the most qualified elected to the House of Representatives on February 7th 2008. He was a first string player in the great game of politics, selected to be among the starting lineup of the Cabinet of Ministers. He started playing the game as he understood the rules: ministers gave instructions, subordinates executed. But his team captain had changed the rules. He hadn’t quite spelled out that he was changing the rules, but it was clear that the rules had been altered – at least to the initiated. New rules, old friendships
Under the new rules, ministers gave instructions and subordinates decided whether or not to execute them, or checked first with the team captain. If a player didn’t understand this, he could be embarrassed in front of his constituency fans. This happened to the young minister. He waited to pay back the subordinate who was the source of his embarrassment. His opportunity came when she signed a contract in disregard for the transparency rules of the game that had been re-introduced by his team. The recently defeated old team had indefinitely suspended the transparency rules.
The minister seized the chance to execute a power play and put himself on the scoreboard by way of slam dunk. He publicly “outed” his subordinate. He fired her. But the political points he scored were immediately disallowed, taken off the scoreboard. Under the old rules, fired subordinates stayed fired. But those rules were changed. The subordinate was unfired. The transparency rule still applied. But not to a first, secret contract. Or at least not to subordinates that are old friends of the team captain.
Under these shape-shifting rules, subordinates could actually “sub” for ministers. The young minister remained in the starting lineup and continued playing the game. But from that moment, he was dead. He looked like he was still playing for his team but in reality he was playing for the opposing team. Some of his teammates saw that he was playing for the opposing team but didn’t bother to tell him anything since he was dead.
The young erstwhile minister should not despair. There can still be life after dead reckoning. In the great game of politics, the dead are sometimes resurrected. But it is the exception. This is because the dead refuse to accept that they are dead and try to keep playing the game. In the minister’s case, fantasies of orgiastic reprisals against his team captain, who is on top of his game right now, would be to cut off any hope of resurrection. Better to stay dead; or play dead by accepting the substitution, staying on the backbenches, and biding time.Hopeless expectation
Then take the case of the leader of the opposition. He played hard in the pre-game, applying considerable resources and energy. He had no choice, his position required him to. But it was a pre-game that he couldn’t win. The stats from the game archives showed that no team could, in the space of a year, come back from such a devastating blowout and actually win. His strategy in the pre-game was the conventional, inside-the-box one of talking to win, playing to win and eventually believing that there could be a win, at least in some districts.
His game strategy should have been to adopt the stance of an experienced player who did not expect to win the first game. He should have used the free publicity offered by the buildup to the game to demonstrate that he knew the game well. That he knew reconstructing a party and winning takes longer than a year and that he was building a formidable team with a strategic game plan to a win at the next election. He had, after all, a good scapegoat. The poison of the old guard, he could have said, had still not been flushed from the political veins of voters.
Instead it came across that he was trying hard, at least on his home ground. The loss, expected as it was, deflated those who might have been caught up in the artificially created enthusiasm and inevitably led to questions about leadership. By feeding hopeless expectation he sowed the seeds for questions about his own leadership. These seeds, now being fed with industrial strength fertilizer, will take root and rapidly grow into a full-blown leadership challenge.
Having adopted the strategy that he did, the leader of the opposition felt obliged to deny that his team, under new leadership and management, had actually lost political ground.
The question now is whether he has the energy, focus and a game plan to play and win in the leadership game. The leadership game underway didn’t just begin; it began about five years ago. In this game, a team doesn’t play an opposing team, it plays against itself. Some players in that game don’t expend any energy on low-stakes pre-games; they save it for the big game. Between the devil and the old guard
In the contest that brought him leadership of his party, the leader of the opposition beat his opponent by a paper thin majority of 20 plus votes. He had secured the support of the third aspirant by promising him the deputyship of the party. But it was a Faustian pact that will be reckoned soon. The new deputy, aggressive and uncompromising, drove a wedge between the new leadership and the old guard. Any rapprochement with the old guard was branded as “business as usual” and attacked in quarters of the media he influenced.
The new leader badly needed distance from the radioactive old guard. But at the same time the old guard controlled and influenced a handful of constituencies that could be critical in a leadership challenge mounted by an unabashed and unbridled aspirant. The obvious solution was the age-old technique of creating a “back channel”. A senior representative of the old guard and a senior representative of the new would work the back channel to arrive at détente while giving the new leader deniability. Instead, relations curdled.
The leader of the opposition’s fate is sealed. He is enveloped in that vulnerability that slowly, mistily surfaces when an unproven leader loses his first political test without doing the groundwork to dissipate the mist. If he tries to make peace with the old guard now after his defeat in the municipals, he will be seen as desperate; capitulating to the old guard to save himself at the expense of the party. If he doesn’t, his nemesis will himself hold out an olive branch to the old guard – which he’s doing already. His nemesis understands the game much better than he does. And he’s not afraid to play it. He understands that it is a game in which you can break all the rules until you can make them yourself. The leader cannot now, in his moment of vulnerability, go after his nemesis. It is too late. He waited too long, repeating the mistake of his predecessor. The outcome of this game is already known. But it will be hellishly interesting to watch.http://www.flashpointbelize.com/flashpoint+articles.aspx?EntryID=74