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De-Capitalization of T&T's Democracy
Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2002

by Stephen Kangal

Feelings of helplessness and utter despair overwhelmed me as I daily witnessed the extent to which the machinery that drives our cherished Westminster democracy had been hijacked and commandeered by the moneyed- capitalist oligarchy in the recent elections.

Democracy in T&T has lost its former innocence and is no longer the preserve, as it used to be, of the masses. It is no longer government conducted by the people, for the people and of the people.

Democracy has been transformed into a sham, a fašade behind which the capitalist elite, in exchange for party donations, pulls the strings, rapes and exploits the state of huge tracts of the national patrimony. The conventional, constituency-grown and nurtured, ordinary grass-roots politician, can now no longer aspire to make any significant inputs in determining the future destiny of rainbow Trinidad and Tobago if the current laissez-faire system of privately financed elections is not radically reformed and neutralized.

The modest capital outlay for accessing equality of political opportunity, upon which our democracy was originally founded, has now become excessively exorbitant and prohibitively high tec. Private elections financing constitutes a form of disenfranchisement and severely compromises the tenets of the one person, one vote maxim. It now denies equal political opportunity because the centre dominates the periphery in true colonial style.

We have been marginalised as detached observers of a classic political theatre in which the protagonists of money power have overtaken and seduced the fundamentals of people's power in the words of Team Unity's leader. Our democratic ideals have become disfigured and obfuscated and used as pawns in the hands of local capitalists, political investors, financiers and the parasitic clique. Someone has to sound the alarm to stem the tide of this growing scourge of democracy and mount a sustained lobby to introduce campaign financing and campaign spending limits. A rescue mission must be undertaken to restore our democracy and insulate the exchequer from the clutches of capitalists financiers because he who pays the piper calls the tune and determines the political agenda.

In the recent election season the print and electronic media were used and abused to bombard, without let or hindrance, the innocent and unsuspecting electorate with a sustained array of expensive political advertisements from which one could not escape unscathed and unharmed. These adverts attained saturation point to the extent that they were, as borne out by the elections results, counter-productive, nerve wrackingly repetitive and eminently disrespectful of the intelligence of the electorate. Two parties were engaged in an overwhelming overkill and clash of their media armoury or what should be now be dubbed the Panday doctrine of overwhelming use of money.

Surely the electorate in the future should have some recourse to the Media Complaints Council for being the victims of misleading political advertising. A Code of Conduct should be agreed to among the contenders. The only beneficiary of this media war was the coffers and traded values of shares in the media outfits since the five marginals, and most notably Tunapuna, decided the outcome of the elections and they should have been the victims of political advertising over-kill and not the tribal faithfuls.

The only ray of hope to dismantle the stranglehold and monopoly that the capitalist cabal has foisted and erected over our parliamentary composition- determination- process is the introduction of State funded elections campaign, spending limits and public disclosures of political contributions above $1,000.

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