By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 13, 2021
“God don’t sleep! We want change. The ghetto youth, the old, the young, everybody come out because we want change and if Farley and the PDP do stupidness, we voting them out, too.”
—Lisa Mulcare, Express
On August 2, 2020, prior to the general election in T&T, in a column entitled “Why I support UNC this time around”, I wrote: “Although PNM began as a movement that was cognisant of the needs of the under-class Indians and Africans alike—over the years it has come to take the support of black people for granted. One only has to look at the conditions under which many black people in depressed communities live to recognise that they have not been the recipients of PNM’s loving and tender care.”
I had hoped a UNC victory would make PNM realise it was failing its black citizens.
PNMites berated me for taking this position. Members of my immediate family were angry that I supported the UNC, “dat Indian party”, rather than PNM, “we black party”. Some of my dearest friends concluded that I betrayed them, the party, and black people, and I should be ashamed of myself.
Meanwhile, Tobagonians were watching and waiting. Once their opportunity arose, they made their feelings known. In the January 2021 election, 13,288 people voted for the PNM; 12,796 voted for the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP), signalling to the PNM hierarchy that they weren’t satisfied with their stewardship.
Believing they could still control the fate of Tobagonians, the PNM hierarchy supported an expansion of the seats in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) from 12 to 15 to ensure the results it wanted. They were mistaken. The PDP won 14 of those 15 seats with 16,932 votes. PNM received 11,943 votes, which is fewer than they received in January. It was an indication that Tobagonians were fed up with PNM’s arrogance and Keith Rowley’s hubris.
As if to rub salt in the PM’s wounds, the two PNM candidates (Kwesi Des Vignes and Laurence Hislop) from Mason Hall, the PM’s home town, were defeated in the January and December elections, respectively.
On August 2, 2020, I assured my readers: “I remain a member of the PNM but membership of this great institution demands more than blind loyalty. In this day and time, no one should vote for policies that ensure one’s enslavement. One should support what’s in the best interest of one’s group and the society at large.”
This is why I felt vindicated when Velma Reid, an 80-year-old woman from Belle Garden, Tobago, noted: “I have voted PNM all my life, but this time around I felt we need change and development. We need more for young people especially.”
She continued: “When he (Augustine) left school, Mr London was the Chief Secretary, and when he gave him his medal he told Mr London, ‘one day I coming to sit in your chair’. And I live to see it, that he is going to sit in that chair. I feel proud of him. He is young, but if he put he mind to it and go after it, he will make it. So we have to give him a chance and watch.” (Express, December 8)
This is how deep the feelings of true PNM members lie. Reid is two years older than I am. I can relate. PNM has neglected its grassroots members for too long.
PDP deputy leader Farley Augustine was modest and even-tempered in victory. He has been within the ambit of PNM long enough to know the frustrations and betrayal of long-standing PNM members. This is why he warned in his victory speech:
“This win should also be a message to the Central Government being led by a Tobago-born Prime Minister that you cannot treat Tobagonians the way you want. We will reject that and we have rejected that. Let this win be a strong message, Mr Prime Minister, that we in Tobago have rejected your bullying tactics… I urge you not to spite Tobago because Tobagonians I know are mighty enough to also get rid of you. Let that be a warning that you ought to respond to us in a dignified way.” (Express, December 7)
Even the winning PNM candidate, Minority Leader Kelvon Morris, felt the PNM had grown away from its people. Asked why he thought PNM lost the election, he responded: “People did feel that we were out of touch and were not responding to their needs and concerns, which engendered some disenchantment.” (Express, December 9)
This is not a time to gloat or to be loose of tongue. It is a time to be reflective; a time to think how a massive party, whose money bags were full to overflowing, could lose an election so overwhelmingly. Abraham Lincoln was reputed to have said: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Many of the staunchest PNM members are saddened yet happy at the PDP’s victory. On Thursday evening, a higher-up member of the PNM said to me: “We happy and we sad. Happy we lost so it could send a message to the Prime Minister, but sad because we are PNM. We want our party back.”
Augustine was successful because he realised respecting one’s people is the first law of political life. Change is the order of the day, but as Lisa Mulcare reminded us: “If Farley and the PDP do stupidness, we will vote them out, too.”
The PNM hierarchy in Trinidad should be aware of the attitudes of the Reids and Mulcares. It could mean the difference between victory and defeat in 2022 local elections.