By Raffique Shah
December 06, 2021
Wouldn’t it be… ’er, amusing if the Farley Augustine-led, Watson Duke-bred Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) canters away to win the Tobago Stakes in tomorrow’s rerun of the House of Assembly election?
The last time these two political parties met, less than one year ago, the encounter ended in a controversial six-six tie which gave Duke bragging rights, not without merit, since his brand new PDP made sweeping gains in overall votes and in the number of seats it captured. Still, they did not dislodge the wily PNM which used incumbency as an instrument to get another shot at controlling the THA, which they have held since 2001.
Now, I should make it clear that I have not been “on the ground” in the Covid-clad campaign, what with all the restrictions. And in my years of monitoring, assessing and trying to project the results of elections, I have learnt that the ground is where one must be in order to get the vibes of the electorate before risking one’s reputation. So there is that, and there is also my ignorance of the Tobago culture, the peculiar relationships Tobagonians share, which my Tobagonian pals speak of.
Readers must note that in 1956, when the founder of modern, post-colonial T&T and Father of the PNM, Dr Eric Williams, let his bucket down, as he famously wrote, and went on to sweep the older generation of politicians from the elections equation, one-half of Tobago stood steadfast with APT “Fargo” James, rejecting the Prince of the PNM, ANR Robinson. Williams did not conquer the island until 1961. Later, when the Prince and the Father fell out, and the latter grudgingly conceded to allow a pint of autonomy to the sister-isle, as we nationals of the twin-island Republic fondly call Tobago, “Robbie” resigned his seat in the legislature, contested the first THA election in 1980, defeated the PNM, and went on to be the de facto King of Tobago and de jure Chief Secretary of the THA.
I am recalling some brief historical facts on the politics of the more recent relationship between the two islands that many citizens of T&T do not know, and which I think are important if one is to make informed judgments on the politics today. I have seen and smelt tonnes of manure on this topic being unloaded on the mainstream and anti-social media, hence I feel compelled to speak out… or write.
Robbie, leading his own party, the Democratic Action Congress (DAC), retained control of the THA between 1980 and 1986, when he resigned to take leadership of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), an amalgam of several parties (which went on to obliterate the PNM from the national political map), thrashing it 33-3.
Let me correct myself “one time” before some stickler for accuracy and details exposes my flank. The NAR wiped the PNM off the electoral map, not the political map, since the party, in opposition for the first time in its 30-year history, had polled an impressive 183,000-plus votes, while the multi-party NAR (ULF, DAC, ONR, Tapia and others) amassed 380,000.
The THA would remain under DAC/NAR control until the 2001 election, surviving the demise of the NAR, which had collapsed before 1991 when the new Patrick Manning-led PNM returned to government, flogging Basdeo Panday’s UNC in Trinidad, but Tobago staying with the NAR, which really meant Robinson’s DAC. Indeed, that party would retain control of the THA, hence Tobago, for four consecutive terms, until the PNM mustered the support and muscle to defeat it in 2001. Which is the point I try to make in my opening paragraph. Back in the DAC/NAR period, there were strong Tobago leaders who fought tenaciously for Tobago.
Lennox Denoon and Hochoy Charles weren’t easy. But none of them was as coarse as Watson Duke, who seems to have found a fellow fool in Farley. Together, they have taken campaigning to new depths—of language, coarseness in general behaviour and, if we assume the series of TV advertisements directed at them by the PNM are accurate in the charges made, any sane person will question their fitness to hold public office. However, in today’s world of politicking, buffoons seem to thrive: witness Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and others like them.
Tobagonians might just ignore the seedier side of Watson and his sidekick Farley, much the way a majority among them seem to ignore the Covid regulations. In other words, fed-up with PNM governance, the party’s eve of election delivery on promises made many years ago and I’ve heard accusations of victimisation and other petty sins, could well find itself out of office in the THA by Monday night. If such happens, the many good islanders should not feel ashamed of what Watson-politics might do for their image.
After all, we live in the golden age of stupidity where no low is too low.