By Raffique Shah
September 14, 2008
I am often guilty of making a fool of myself, although those who know me well would agree that I readily admit to my stupidity. There I was last Sunday, pontificating on American politics and politicians, their weaknesses and hypocrisy, when in my own country our politicians are making fools of us all. It’s bad enough millions of Americans see salvation in Sarah Palin, a woman whose thinking is archaic and unimpressive, to say the least. Now, trapped in this Mickey Mouse country where clowns rule or aspire to rule, I find myself falling flat on my backside, ashamed of being a Trini.
The motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Patrick Manning being debated in Parliament today (I write this on Friday), has generated so much media coverage, it makes me feel ashamed, being part of the fraternity. If the composition of Parliament were such that there was the likelihood of Manning losing his position, I would understand the hype. Every sensible person knew it was an exercise in futility. Ramesh Maharaj has provided a platform for Manning and the PNM to crow like yard-cocks, convinced as they are that Trinis are stupider than Americans.
In normal circumstances, a non-motion like this would have elicited no excitement, not even from the media. Only in a country like this, where daily crime-quota is met like clockwork, so much so they are now consigned to the inside pages of newspapers, can a political circus be created to take people’s minds off the many woes that beset us.
Since the debate in the House was a non-event, how could the politicians exploit it? The PNM seized the opportunity to have a show of strength by having its millionaire-minions organize a rally in nearby Woodford Square. If the trade unions could spur more than half the working population to enjoy a “day of reflection” on Monday of last week, why not give “we people” another day of freeness to show the unions who is boss? We know people’s weakness for “ah juzzy”, a bus ride (nowadays in air-conditioned comfort), rhythm section, free food, free drinks, music and more.
To add drama, to stimulate the media hype, PNM officials distanced themselves from “rumours” of a rally, even as 42 tents were erected in the Square, and now standard big-screen television sets were deployed. Feeding on what had by then turned into a media frenzy, the games continued all week. By last Wednesday night, almost half the newscasts on all television stations focused on this “impending war”.
By then some very smart journalist had planted in Basdeo Panday’s head the idea of his supporters also heading Woodford Square way. Like Ramesh, Panday revels in media attention, and never loses the opportunity to grab any such opportunity. “I will mass UNC forces in Port of Spain that day!” Panday bellowed. Confrontation! As a former editor, I can just imagine the screaming headline, waiting only on the story!
Nobody questioned whether the UNC could muster more than a few hundred of its core supporters for such a demonstration. Out of power and without access to public funds or millionaires’ money, Panday struggles to put together a hundred people at his weekly meetings. Even if he and his colleagues could access the money, the transport, the rum-and-roti, there was little chance they could persuade their supporters to brave their way into what was nothing short of a “PNM sampat”.
There was a time when Panday could get his diehards to follow him into Hell. No more. While they will hardly switch their support to the PNM, Panday is no longer the demi-God he once was. So what does he do to further ignite public interest in the damp squid the debate promised to be? “Call off the troops!” he shouted. “I want no confrontation. If my people go to Woodford Square, there will be violence…I don’t want that!” What troops? What violence? It was a hollow cry from a politician who is dying a slow, painful death. My colleagues in the media stand guilty of torturing the man on his journey into political after-life.
Look, Manning and the PNM are guilty of many political sins. In this period of plenty when they could have used the nation’s wealth to address some of the long standing problems facing us, they have arrogated unto themselves God-like powers to dispense largesse as they see fit. Too many primary schools look like something out of the 19th century, which they are. Too many police stations are derelict buildings of the same era. Too many people, among them even as ministers sip champagne to celebrate skyscrapers. Too many projects that are unnecessary for our future well-being are pursued with a passion that is incomprehensible to the majority of people.
Maharaj’s no-confidence motion was always doomed to failure: Manning must pray, though, that the masses do not take a bold, unconventional step to have him removed from office. That is one story I won’t want to write.