Periscope on upcoming national elections

By Raffique Shah
February 12, 2019

Raffique ShahEven as the crisis in neighbouring Venezuela remains volatile, with the threat of civil war looming large just beyond our horizon, politicians in Trinidad and Tobago are pressing ahead with preparations for their own political wars—local government elections due to be held later this year and a general election before the end of next year.

Elections in Trinidad and Tobago are driven by one core issue: when the People’s National Movement holds power, as it does now, how to remove it from office. Or when it’s out in the wilderness of opposition, how to keep it there. Nothing more, nothing less.

Maybe I am being cynical in my view of the electoral process in this country, reducing democracy T&T-style to the lowest common denominator, tribalism, race, call it what you will. But tell me that “ah lie” after you consider all the historical facts that are before us.

The 1956 general election that saw newcomer Dr Eric Williams and the PNM win a majority of seats, but still having to get the blessings of the Governor to form a government (because of the constitution), was the first and last time that the PNM was not the central issue in national elections.

Back then, there was Uriah Butler, the labour icon whose star was fading into oblivion. There was the incumbent chief minister Albert Gomes, who, struck by the spirit of nationalism that Dr Williams had made his mantra, was destined to be wiped off the electoral map. There was Bhadase Maraj, who forged the Indo-based People’s Democratic Party to defend and represent the interests of his tribe. And there were the last of the stalwart-independents—”Fargo” James in Tobago, Chanka Maharaj (narrowly beaten by PNM neophyte Kamaluddin Mohammed in Barataria) and Ajodhasingh (south-west), Victor Bryan (north-east) and Lionel Seukeran (Naparima).

Thereafter, most of the opposition forces joined hands and trained their guns on the PNM, not just because it was seen as a “Negro” party (“Afro” had yet to enter our lexicon), but because it quickly emerged as an organised and dominant party. Also, Eric’s arrogance grew in direct proportion to his seeming invincibility as, election after election, the PNM flogged the opposition parties, in some cases, literally to death.

Even after he removed the controversial voting machines for the 1976 election, the PNM beat the new opposition United Labour Front 24-10, with the two Tobago seats going to ANR Robinson’s DAC. It was Tobago’s first rejection of the PNM, and it stunned Williams.

Williams would die in office in 1981, never having tasted defeat as his immediate successor, George Chambers, did in 1986. With an economic recession reducing their oil-boom lifestyles to relative destitution, voters came out with a vengeance in 1986 under the united opposition banner of the National Alliance for Reconstruction, and dealt the PNM what everyone thought was a 33-3 death blow.

Turned out that, Phoenix-like, the PNM rose from the ashes to regain power five years later, and it was the NAR and some of its constituent parts (or parties) that died instead. Thereafter, power would change hands almost ritually every five years, as citizens tried one party or other, or an amalgamation of parties as was the case with the Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led People’s Partnership in 2010.

Always, in voting out the PNM, the electorate appeared to be looking for good governance, for the elimination of corruption that had reached epidemic proportions under the “old” PNM, although the newer versions were not without sin. But always, they discovered that those whom they had chosen to deliver them from evil were the Devil incarnates, smiling as they plundered the public purse. Nepotism ran rife. Racism reared its ugly head. The grass was not greener on the other side of the fence.

I have long questioned the validity of two-party (or multi-party) democracies as being the best form of government in the world. With few exceptions, mostly in advanced civilisations in Europe, voting for one party or other seems to cast electors on a never-ending treadmill, going nowhere, never getting to the nirvana they dream of. Always, the politicians and their fattened calves enjoy the good life while ordinary citizens seem destined to suffer hell, however bountiful the countries they reside in.

The starting pistol for the next elections has been fired. Race gone. Hundreds of aspirants to public office, many of them common crooks who want only to get their grubby hands on lucrative contracts and kickbacks, will face the selectors from the PNM and the UNC. There are some decent souls among them, those who really want to serve their constituents, the public.

But the levels of contamination in those houses of dubious repute are so high there is little chance of the innocent escaping untainted. I have heard Dr Rowley say, repeatedly, that under his captaincy, the PNM is clean when it comes to corruption. As leader, he may well believe that. But from some stories I’ve heard, while the head may be clean, the rot has seeped to other parts of the body politic. He needs to examine the horns of his crew—there may be traitors and thieves on board.

The UNC faces far more formidable challenges in trying to present a sanitised image to the public. Kamla does not need to worry about her core constituents. For them, she and her aides can do, and have done, no wrong. But the discerning electors who live in strategically-located communities that count in the critical marginal constituencies are a different breed.

They value decency way above charm and posturing. They can smell schmidt from the proverbial mile, and there are many stinkers on board her vessel.

There are other hopefuls who would likely contest one or both elections. Some of them are of nuisance value, others may merit comment. As I write this, news reports speak of one-time UNC/PP minister Vasant Bharath holding discussions with other ex-ministers from both main parties. That’s an interesting development that I may choose to address.

2 thoughts on “Periscope on upcoming national elections”

  1. “That’s an interesting development that I may choose to address”

    I think Raffique is losing his mind and suffering from illusions of grandeur. For a failed revolutionary who surrendered before the first bullet was fired he seems to believe he is an expert on all things, Trinidad being his speciality.

    Anyone can quote history but what you learn from history is what matters. In 1804, Jean Jacques Dessalines overthrew the French Government in Haiti and established the first black state in the Western Hemisphere. More than 200 years later Haiti is still a failed state. Lesson to be learned here is that any society or state based solely on race is on the fast road to becoming a failed state. BTW a lot of the French planters expelled from Haiti actually came to Trinidad for refuge.

    Back to the T&T elections. In the 2015 elections, PNM received 754,716 votes. The Opposition (PP & Other) received 780,176 votes (all figures from EBC Official results). There are several reasons PNM won. Propaganda, lies, misinformation and racial baiting (Emailgate, Ganjagate, Calcutta ship etc) spread by Jack Warner and Keith Rowley conspired to bring down the PP Government.
    The real reason however lies in the numbers. Over the years, the PNM have rigged the distribution of the seats in Parliament so that in PNM strongholds fewer votes are required for a seat than in an Opposition majority riding. For example in Tobago East the total electorate is slightly more than 21,000 whereas in Siparia it is almost 28,000. So much for one man one vote.

    I noticed in Wikipedia that Mr Rowley has been in Government since 1987, and therefore a beneficiary of PNM welfare system.
    By 2020 him and his dependents would have been enjoying a privileged life of leisure not accessible to the common man and woman who need to get up before sunrise to sell doubles and provision in the market in order to survive. I would venture to guess that some PNM supporters may not have done a stitch of work since 1955.

    The first salvo in the next election has already been fired by PNM Community leader Cro Cro and N**ga calypso. I sincerely hope the educated Black Trinidadians are not seduced by these 21st Century “House Slaves” who are only interested in retaining their privileges and take an example from the good people in South Africa who united the races (Nelson Mandela, Mac Maharaj, etc) to overthrow a racist regime.

    On a more positive note, I predict that the next US President will be mixed race person, Kamala Harris. Maybe people in T&T should start looking for a T&T equivalent.

  2. “Kamla does not need to worry about her core constituents. For them, she and her aides can do, and have done, no wrong”.

    This statement is not necessarily accurate.
    From 1995 to 2015 the only consistent statistic pertaining to the election results in T&T is PNM vote percentage ranging from 46 to 51% in every election, win or lose.
    These percentages from 1995 t0 2015 clearly indicate that the PNM core constituents are solid and more reliable voters.
    The postulation that the UNC has a base which supports the party in every election is just part of political mythology. The statistics prove otherwise.
    In many of these elections the disenchanted or unmotivated UNC voters stay at home or flip to other Parties, including the PNM.
    The UNC was only able to form government in coalitions, even in the Panday years when he received the support of Tobago representatives. To defeat the PNM would require over 50 to 60 percent of the electorate, as occurred in 2010 when the UNC coalition received 60%.In that year the PNM was still able to garner 40% of the vote.
    The only consistent group of voters in T&T are the Afro-Trinis and mixed who loyally support the PNM in every election.
    As of the 2011 Trinidad and Tobago Census, the population was 35.43% East Indian, 34.22% African, 7.66% Mixed – African and East Indian, and 15.16% Mixed – Other.

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