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The Electorate Must Shift the Paradigm
Posted: Friday, June 7, 2002

by Stephen Kangal

In its continuing quest to abandon and progressively discard the old, regressive and obsolete paradigm based on ethnocentricity that conventional tribal loyalties seem to have hitherto accorded precedence over more important political and economic campaign issues, the electorate should seek in its own interests to experiment with new patterns and voting strategies. These must be conceptualised to foster and promote more effectively not only the macro interests of the nation but also the people's legitimate right to development of their communities and the quiet enjoyment of their increasing standard of living thanks to T&T's mushrooming petro-economy.

The electorate needs to break away from the suffocating monopoly hitherto exercised by the current two political parties paradigm and bequeathed to us by the Westminster system. Political parties monopolize the political agenda and have now degenerated into fašades and fronts for fostering covert business and other sinister interests. As I proposed elsewhere, T&T's democracy must be de-capitalized and rescued from the clutches of the parasitic clique of political investors.

Accordingly the major priorities of contemporary political organisations in T&T are established outside the parameters of their duly established policy and decision-making bodies by a system of adhocracy designed for the exclusive covert benefit of the said political investors and financiers. Some parties have also become the personal property and fiefdom of some demagogic leaders who use the organisation as a tool to promote their own private agenda and those of their friends and accomplices. No wonder the prevailing law accords to such entities that preside over and direct the destinies of Trinbagonians a the legal status similar to that of private clubs as recently pronounced by a High Court Judge.

As the most sophisticated electorate in the Caribbean, we are now fully equipped to undo and break away from the shackles imposed by the present bi-party paradigm. There is an urgent case to also organise ourselves independent and outside of political parties from an integrationist perspective so that we can as a collectivity continue to secure all our varied interests and gradually put an end to the divide and rule policies, the outmoded rural-urban dichotomy and the ethnic security syndrome.

This proposal does not supplant the constitutional right of the individual electorate to belong to parties, in pursuit of their fundamental right to the freedom of association. We have to consolidate, however, a system of effective participatory democracy by ensuring that those whom we elect understand and appreciate that power and its attendant trappings of political office are a trust held and wielded on behalf of all the people. Constitutional reform must provide for MP's/Regional Councilors to be disrobed when there is overwhelming evidence of abuse, non-performance, neglect and loss of confidence by the constituents. Arrogance and all manifestations of dictatorial tendencies must be outlawed and reprimanded by councils of electorates. Humility and community consciousness must take precedence. We should not surrender our inalienable democratic right to the whims and fancies of political cadres once we spend 5 minutes in a polling station every 5 years. We cannot surrender our collective power to parties and MP's to do as they wish including abandoning the policies, programmes and priorities of election manifestoes on the basis of which they were elected. Independent Regional Panchayats must be established to hold all and sundry accountable on a continuing basis as well as to act as a vigilant watch-dog entity on behalf of the electorate in the constituencies and at the national levels. This is the logical next step for the electorate.

Constituencies in general and constituents in particular, must now deliberately emancipate themselves from flowing with the river and retreat to the moral high ground of the bank to judge the ebb and flow of the political torrents from an egalitarian perspective and not be drawn by ethnic/tribal considerations into the vortex in blind, willing submission.

As collectivities constituencies should seek to assess the benefits to be derived from strategic and tactical voting and which can redound to their interests. For example had Couva South or Tunapuna voted tactically on December 10 they would have benefited enormously above and beyond the present. They should strive to achieve the balance of power so that elected representatives remain forever beholden and responsive to their local and constituency interests. Constituencies should make a clear statement by their votes and not be enmeshed in the silent struggle for promoting contemporary ethnic supremacy and security and in which they lose their individual identity and their interests are subordinated if not marginalised.

Tactical voting across the ethnic divide is a viable option in view of the possibility of a hung or near-hung Parliament being with us for some time. Exceptional independent candidates can now make a case for their return to T&T politics. We should take note of the balance of power exercised by Tobago in 1995 and a little less so in 2000. We need a mechanism, an across party lines platform to foster and consolidate the new modus vivendi et operandi.

While we must recognise and take into account macro or national interests these must take into account and address our geographic interests across party lines. Best thinks that we are a city-state. On the contrary we are a large insular village- state the product of increasing mobility (1 car for every 4 persons) and decentralization at several levels of national life.

Subscribing to generally couched open-ended policy statements of manifestoes is a prescription for promoting the covert agenda of the power-hungry oligarchy serving as front men for the parasitic clique ruling class who amend the political agenda to suit their changing objectives. Accordingly the interests of the respective constituencies become marginalised, subordinated and secondary to the primary interests of the political investors. To change the status quo constituency development plans drafted by candidates in each constituency and sanctioned by parties should become an important criterion for their candidatures and may constitute part of manifestoes.

The days of apan jaat (ethnic) or tribal politics are numbered as our society re-tools and re-engineers itself along a new paradigm to ensure that the road to increasing prosperity is well-paved and not subject to manufactured, concocted delaying traffic jams or self-centred road-blocks.

There is need to establish a Voters Association of Trinidad and Tobago (VATT) with representation drawn from each of the 36 constituencies across the country to provide a platform for civil society to secure their collective interests by pursuing interventionist strategies insulated from the influences of political parties.

Campaign financing when in force should also be made available to VATT to prevent political investors from hijacking the organisation and compromising its integrity and independence as they are now achieving with political parties. The Association must operate as an independent body separate, distinct and immune from the influence of political parties as far as practically possible.

Politics are not about achieving the supremacy of any racial grouping. It is the system for the allocation of the rewards/ resources of the state and the channel for the achievement of equity, balanced development, removal of all vestiges of alienation and the full and effective integration of the society leading to the effective harnessing of all of the abundant financial, physical and human resource potential of the society.

The Electorate via constitutional reform initiatives must now demand that their MP's come from within their constituencies and be ordinarily and effectively resident there to promote accessibility to them. The days of foisting a cadre of urban-based MP's who have neither nexus nor connexion with the rural people whom they represent must be outlawed and rejected. Agents of the center must no longer preside over and determine the fate and fortunes of the periphery for this is colonialism re- invented and re-constituted. T&T is now a literate population and we can do without the absentee-MP syndrome that has been the result of an MP being imposed on us by the manipulations of charismatic, maximum leaders.

Except for letters to the Editor/Commentaries, Phone In TV/ Radio Shows and the endangered party conventions there is no formal conduit or mechanism for articulating the views of the voting community outside and independent of the fora of political parties and other interest groups.

The T&T electorate being an evolving, discriminating and sophisticated electorate must now organise itself politically outside of the parameters of existing partisan groups, ideological corals, and geographic parameters. They must dismantle the prevailing political culture in which the winner first- past- the- post takes all and the losers are subject of political neglect even though they all continue to pay taxes, still belong to communities and enjoy a fundamental right to development and employment.

Each constituency has an inalienable right to egalitarianism, equity, and the services/amenities provided by the state. There is no political or other sanctity in the concept of urban renewal taking precedence over and at the expense of rural decay especially in the village that is T&T. In T&T geography coincides with ethnicity and this factor must be addressed carefully by planners/politicians.

The electorate should disband existing political structures and redesign and alter the political party paradigm of power configuration in order to promote the exercise of their continuing civic right and duties for the benefit of the total community irrespective of ethnicity and political affiliations. This is real emancipation from the status quo- society re-engineering itself and taking a qualitative leap into the future to a new plateau of politics.

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