By Donna Yawching
Two men, who just happen to hold the fate of the nation in their hands, meet to negotiate power. After days of bargaining, arguing, cajoling, threatening, whatever, they emerge smiling and patting each other's backs like old buddies.
They have, we are told, not just arrived at but actually signed an agreement. They have agreed to cooperate in Parliament, for the good of the country. Like two veteran boxers unable to knock each other out, they have also agreed to leave the final declaration of a winner to the referee–who, in this case, happens to hold the highest office in the land.
They both agree that he will decide, in his absolute discretion, who the Chosen One shall be; and that this decision will be accepted without question or complaint -both men, presumably, speaking on behalf of their followers.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? We're not even talking about the Constitution here, and whether or not the President has the right to choose the next Prime Minister (though apparently he does). We're talking about a straightforward agreement between two parties who, unable to resolve a bad situation amongst themselves, voluntarily placed the problem in the President's lap- much like King Solomon was handed the baby-and said: You decide.
Absolute discretion. The words (or concept) have been employed by several commentators, from Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj to Patrick Manning, the latter stressing (before the fact) that the President's final decision could not be questioned in court. Absolute discretion would mean that if Mr Robinson had decided to choose Mr Manning because of his taste in ties, or Mr Panday for his luxuriant silver hair, he would have had every right to do so, and indeed, to do so without explanation. If he chose to explain, no one could gainsay him: absolute discretion, one assumes, is absolute.
Not in T&T, apparently. Hardly had Mr Robinson made his reluctant Christmas Eve announcement than a dozen UNC supporters jumped up to tell him that he was wrong. That he was biased. That he was insulting their integrity. That he had no right to choose the PNM over them. That they wouldn't accept his decision. That they were withdrawing forthwith from the agreement.
Quite apart from the question of whether it is even possible for someone who is exercising absolute discretion to be wrong, it does not seem to have occurred to these irate partisans that a signed agreement is essentially a contract: a declaration of good faith, a concord between gentlemen. The swift and summary manner in which the UNC MPs dismissed the agreement as soon as President Robinson anointed the enemy speaks volumes about the trustworthiness and honour of both the party and its members.
It would seem that according to UNC philosophy, an agreement is only valid when you win the toss. Had Mr Robinson opted for Mr Panday to form the next government, all these same MPs would be vociferously insisting that the PNM adhere to the deal they had signed. Any hesitancy or backpedalling would have been the subject of indescribable scorn and derision.
Yet, without even making a pretence of trying to keep their side of the bargain, Mr Panday's disciples have bluntly demonstrated that a deal struck with them is literally not worth the paper it's written on. One would be wise not to buy a used car from any of these folks. It's frightening to think that they used to govern us; and that they wish to do so again. Is there anything they might say or do that we, the electorate, could ever dare to trust?
It is ironic that, to justify this collective outpouring of dishonesty and dishonour, the UNC MPs are complaining that President Robinson has impugned their good name and insulted their integrity by his references to morality and oaths of office. (My response, were I the President, would be: "If the shoe fits, wear it!"-but I guess that's why I'm not the President.) They even accuse him of some type of religious bias. Had Mr Robinson made his decision based on the colour of Mr Manning's tie, it would probably have been interpreted as a slur on Hindu sartorial style.
Bad sports all the way, the UNC rump accuses the President of somehow having "shredded the Constitution and effectively scuttled the bi-partisan agreement." They do not bother to explain how he has achieved this, except through having chosen Mr Manning instead of them. Not having been picked to bat, they're taking their ball and going home. Awww!
I find all this to be absolutely incredible. Yes, I know it's all about power; but such naked desperation to grab control by all means (including the veiled threat to "mobilise the constituencies"- who, if they'd felt strongly about the matter, would already have mobilised themselves, à la Guyana and Jamaica) is distasteful, and almost embarrassing. It leaves one feeling ashamed for people who have abandoned all personal dignity as they scrabble for what is simply not theirs. Ashamed for them; ashamed of them; and ashamed to be associated, by nationality, with them. This, then, is what we have come to?
The same people who are now claiming that the UNC won the popular vote and should therefore govern are conveniently forgetting that in 1995, the PNM did the same-and yet was denied power. The same man who hugged his rival's shoulders and declared that he would abide by the President's decision is now crying foul and deriding the new government as "illegitimate". (This is the same leader who, a year ago, presented voters with two supposedly illicit candidates!) Calling in one breath for national unity and ethnic calm, in the next he is rabble-rousing his supporters to overthrow an agreement that he himself freely signed. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.
There's no honour amongst thieves, they say; and apparently there is precious little honour amongst local politicians. For this reason alone, any gentlemen's agreement was bound to fail.
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