By Raffique Shah
March 06, 2023
The dizzying pace at which politicians who have promoted themselves as contenders for top positions in government, see things fall apart around them, is an ominous collapse of a political system that seems to have been built to secure the ruling elites. The relics of a post-colonial era that guaranteed the grandchildren of the favoured ones is being battered every-which-way leaving many of them who now hold strategic positions in governments, unsure of their future, and quite likely afraid of what tomorrow may bring.
If it’s not yesterday’s all-conquering Watson Duke, who kitted and outfitted himself for the highest office, watching with what must surely be horror, his Roxborough to Whitehall plan turn toxic, it’s unnamed top officials of both leading parties trying to escape a hornets nest of killer bees that are stinging them, exposing them in their nakedness for what they have always been, common pimps.
With the campaign for general elections in Trinidad looming large on a horizon that looks much closer than the two years stipulated, the inner party fights are becoming vicious – more like Brutus stabbing Caesar: it’s as if the bell has rung and every individual in each party has to seek his or her own survival, in which case, the leader cannot depend on the member for loyalty.
Alliances in both leading parties are strained to the point where no one knows whom to trust. Your best friend today could be your biggest enemy tomorrow. But then, that’s politics. It has always been so, from ancient times to modern Dynasties and now political parties that resemble the courts of Monarchs and dictators that dominated at least five hundred years of medieval global politics. In other words, structures that many boast of that ensure the perpetuity of at least the one-man-one-vote guaranteed supporters and citizens a morsel of democracy.
Watson Duke made no bones about his intents and his modus operandi from the moment he entered public life as leader of the Public Services Association. He is one of the very few to have openly confessed that he owned his party, The PDP. Hell, the man has deed and will and legal rights over the name and such other chattel as may fall under its ambit. Some political commentators and analysts spotted that glaring gap that all but erased any true democracy in Duke’s party. But that fundamental deficiency bothered not the man nor the thousands of Tobagonians who flocked around the new messiah. It also worked well for him in the sense that a significant percentage of the population which proclaims its adherence to the principles of democracy quickly but easily resorted to autocracy – the leader-cum-owner is the beginning and the end, the lord and the master of whatever slice of the political cake his party controls for however limited time, its supporters allow them to. Check every party and examine it closely and you tell me if its operations in or out of the government reflect democracy or autocracy. Theoretically, in democracy the people own the party and the majority will control its destiny. Practically, every party that has grown to be significant in the political affairs of Trinidad and Tobago has given its leader messiah status. Dr. Eric Williams emerged in that role shortly after he returned to Trinidad and Tobago as a political nobody, but riding a wave of anti-colonial hysteria, found a common enemy in the Crown which changed the party’s structure without anyone- supporters, financiers, even office holders being aware of their capitulation. PNM historians will tell you otherwise. I am prepared to debate them anywhere, anytime on this subject.
But the PNM were probably the least of the offenders since the main opposition party installed leaders who had more power in their organisations than Eric Williams ever had. Bhadase Maraj virtually carried around the People’s Democratic Party, the official opposition in 1956-1966. The democrats in the DLP tried to liberalise the party but failed: Bhadase did what he wanted, got what he wanted and the party remained autocratic.
Now Duke, to his credit, has declared himself an autocrat; he is the PDP and the PDP is he. His fanatical supporters who accepted this form of party structure supported everything he said and does. So when other elected members of the party in the THA attempted to discipline him, within a year of coming into power, the party all but imploded. Duke and a handful of his loyal servants stayed with him, while Farley Augustine and others learned the hard way that they were holding an empty paper bag. They did not have even the keys to the party office, Duke meanwhile established an impressive list of misdeeds that ranged from being a porn star to party clown who is under the scrutiny of several state agencies.
You see why our politics is taking us nowhere and doing it very quickly?