Political cocktail: the sacred and the profane

PM Patrick Manning and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar

PNM Patrick Manning vs UNC Kamla Persad-Bissessar

By Raffique Shah
May 23, 2010

I AM told by people who have witnessed election campaigns in other Caribbean countries that ours are not unique in their curious blend of the sacred and the profane. I regret not having experiences like theirs so I can make comparisons. I doubt, though, that elections platforms in any other country can rival ours when it comes to hypocrisy, contradictions and shamelessness.

Can anyone tell me when abortion became an issue important enough to dominate campaign speeches? I know in countries where religion supersedes secularism, issues like abortion, wearing symbols like the cross, women covered in ‘niquabs’, the length of men’s beards, and castes of the candidates, to name but a few, are real. Zealots immersed in their rigid beliefs maim or kill perceived heretics for violating their canons or edicts or religious laws.

But such extreme electioneering happens in backward countries, not in Trinidad and Tobago. We have here a multiplicity of ethnic groups, of people adhering to myriad ‘faiths’; we also have the most rum-shops or upscale bars per square kilometre; we fashioned a ‘bumsee’ Carnival that has infected many countries and cities across the world; and we have added so many religious festivals and holy days that, should we accede to requests for public holidays for them all, we would need two years to fit them into one!

These are our contradictions, yet we fail to admit to them. Politicians see nothing wrong in wooing votes in places of worship with full blessings of a pastor or pundit or imam in some mosque or temple or church, then stepping next door into a bar where profanity rules, to hug and sip alcohol with drunken patrons.

Which is why I was amazed when the abortion issue surfaced on the PNM platform. ‘From ah born’, as my Tobago brethren would say, to the autumn years I now enjoy, I have known that abortions are commonplace in this country. It’s against the law. But if ever the state, driven by fundamentalism, were to try to enforce this law, thousands of teenage and mature women, not to add doctors and ‘back-a-yard’ abortionists, would bring the overburdened justice system to a screeching halt. The authorities would have to convert all of Mr Manning’s unoccupied high-rise buildings into jails-and they would still need more space for these ‘felons’.

It just does not make sense. Just as the furore over ex-priest Kennedy Swaratsingh is a non-issue. What’s wrong with Kennedy preaching from a pulpit one day and sleeping with a woman later that night? We should be thankful he did not mess around with choir boys! More than that, his sins (if they can be so categorised) are tame when compared with many clerics from most religions who answer nature’s call to ‘rise’ while still adorned in their cassocks, kurtas or dhotis. I am sure most readers know of such ‘hoodlum priests’ (or pundits and imams).

In this country where the profane far outnumber the sacred, the issues are not abortion, not de-frocking a priest, not who has a spiritual advisor and who a ‘jharaying pundit’. The vast majority of people who vote tomorrow want to see a reduction in crime from Tuesday. They want the protective services to honour their oaths of office and the politicians to honour their promises. They want water in their taps. The unemployed want jobs. The under-employed want better wages and salaries. The infirm expect much-improved health care. Communities want better roads and services.

I cannot exhaust the list of expectations that people have of whichever party is elected to govern them. If politicians think rhetoric will satiate people’s needs, they will be in for a rude awakening in short order. While far too many people remain stuck in the politics of race-and this remains a determining factor more than most would admit-they also know they cannot take their ethnicity to the supermarket or job site after the elections madness has subsided. Indeed, race is a major issue only during elections.

Many readers might have expected me to ‘call’ the elections results in today’s column. Truth be told, while I watched the People’s Partnership make gains over the past week, I am not foolish enough to predict a runaway win for the PP. ‘There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip,’ an old English proverb warns. With a little more than 72 hours to go between when I write this and the polls close on Monday evening, anything can change how people vote.

I shall be most surprised, though, if the PNM retains the 26 seats it won in the last elections. As it stands, Mr Manning is fighting for survival, not for coronation. He would be lucky to retain power, and if he does, it would be by the narrowest of margins. That does not bode well for his political future.

The PNM has reached a critical crossroad in its long history. For all its sins of commission and omission, as Keith Rowley has been bold enough to admit, it has been the most stable party in the country’s history. But it cannot survive on past glory. It faces a future that demands radical change. If it fails to re-engineer itself it could be buried in the rubble of tomorrow’s elections.

7 Responses to “Political cocktail: the sacred and the profane”


  • To all those people who choose not to vote, or vote for party, are not only hurting themselves but the entire country in the following manner. The PM himself is saying “you think you see corruption now, wait till UNC gets in power…” That is the cause of our action. Believe it people we are the cause for the state of governance we are facing now. We don’t like it, but yet still choose to do nothing against it, by exercising our right to vote.

    By choosing not to vote because of whatever reasons, we think we are sending the parties a message, that there are still a lot of undecided voters and much more need to be done by the parties to get our votes. Well the parties will see it differently, they see a certain part of the population do not care what government they get, by choosing not to vote, and for this reason the government lower their standards and performance to match the population perceived interest in the government. So if more of the population voted, the government will feel as though they are being watched by more of the voters and hence will have to up their standards and performance. Their chance of being re-elected will rest solely on their performance. Do you think the party forming the government will rule with any commitment? For them, if the people don’t care to vote, I will not care to rule, and that is what happening right now.

    Also, By choosing to vote for party, and there are a lot of us who will blindly vote for PNM/UNC till-de-die. What do you think the party sees? They know that they can rely on a certain number of seats, for the voters in those seats are just party slaves and that they are willing to vote blindly. They know most of the support is from till-ah-die voters, so they can do whatever they want. As a government they can do whatever they think, because there support base is there till-de-die. Remember when the PNM some years ago “we can put a crapaud there and they will vote for us…” That is what the party thinks of our intelligence. If we are so stupid to vote blindly then they are smart enough to rip us of. So do you think the party need to work for votes? No, they can drain the treasury and can still get the till-ah-die votes.

    So, if we give the PNM/UNC a strong mandate to rule, by voting smart, then on forming the government they know that the people is in control and if they don’t perform come next time would be voted out. So I think by voting for party or choosing not to vote is a grave mistake and a big part of the reason as to why the governing of the country is in such a mess. If you don’t care to vote smart, they will not care to rule smart, simply put.

  • “If the PNM fails to re-engineer itself it could be buried in the rubble of tomorrow’s elections.”(Shah)
    Unlike Selwyn Ryan, Raffique lacks the courage to endorse the People’s Partnership.
    This election should not be a close one considering the weight of the serious issues and the numerous mistakes made by the ruling party.
    The fact that the PNM still has so much support is testament to the stupidity of many people of T&T.

  • TMan try re-reading Mr. Shah’s article with unbiased eyes (if you are even capable of such). Choosing not to endorse one party over another in his article does not show a lack of courage. If you know anything of Mr. Shah’s past you will know he has more courage than most. Yuh miss de mark entirely.

  • “The vast majority of people who vote tomorrow want to see a reduction in crime from Tuesday. They want the protective services to honour their oaths of office and the politicians to honour their promises. They want water in their taps. The unemployed want jobs. The under-employed want better wages and salaries. The infirm expect much-improved health care. Communities want better roads and services.”

    I cannot exhaust the list of expectations that people have!!!”
    TOTAL AGREEMENT Mr. Shah; Let us please continue to pray for good governance from our elected people’s partnership; that wisdom will prevail and the NGO’s will rise to the task re: social services, etc.

  • I am not foolish enough to predict a runaway win for the PP.
    OH REALLY?

  • The Election is over and the People have prevailed. This mandate gives cause to be cautious because the priorities that mean most to the common man have not been addresed. The arrognce that replaced humility has run its course. It is over.

    The tragedy surfaced in the aftermath is sickening in terms of doom and gloom by those whos interests were not served. The new Government belongs to all of us. We must all work to make it succeed because when Governments fail certain segments of the society usually perish and as One People, One Nation, this is something that we can ill afford to work toward.

    This new challenge is not about Party, it is about People. It is about honesty and accountability with an emphasis on addressing the varied needs of the entire society. It is no longer We vs Them, it is now about Us. We can rise, in fact we Must. There is work ahead. And we shall do it. This new journey has already started as the air is ripe with expectations. We shall not relive the past. Our experiences won’t permit it.

  • Congratulations to our New Prime Minister Madame Kamala Persad Bissessar of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago and her great victory in the rrecent Election./ God Bless you and we hope that Trinidad & tobago can once again be given hope and a new vision to solve all the major problems of crime, corruption, employment and infrafrastrcture renewal. We hope this is a time for positive hard work by all the members of the wining team to solve all the main problems of this beautiful island nation and all of us from afar former citizens and friends and visitors wiil have no regret to visit rinidad & Tobago as offen as we can without fear that the criminals will not take over the place.

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