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Our Nascent Political Culture
Posted: Friday, July 5, 2002

By Stephen Kangal

T&T is on the threshold of ushering in a new, rapidly evolving and transforming political culture. Under normal circumstances such an evolutionary process will unfold slowly and take shape and form so gradually that one is unable to, or with some difficulty, identify the basic trends as well as the constituent elements of this political phenomenon or process. The rate of change however, is manifesting itself so rapidly and distinctly that some of the base elements of this nascent political culture are easily discernible.

The facilitative mechanisms that act as the catalyst for precipitating this emerging, altered political culture would appear to be:

the mushrooming print and electronic media;

the internal and external mobility of the population;

greater accessibility to telephone and TV and widespread literacy;

growing political awareness among the cosmopolitan electorate;

The consequent emergence of a discriminating and highly articulate population and electorate to political maturity would complete the picture. The new frequency of staging public political platforms adopted by all political parties outside of the periods of election campaigns is contributing to the political ferment and awareness. Street politics is no longer a once in-five years occurrence. Politics like cricket is the subject of conversation in rum-shops, bars and at social events everywhere. The high profile involvement of the young in the process is very noticeable. The objective of attaining ethnic security would appear to be the critical factor underpinning this growing political awareness.

The original and unique catalyst for initiating this progressively dynamic and fundamentally -altered political landscape was the ONE LOVE platform promoted by the NAR in 1986 that broke for the first time the stranglehold that the PNM foisted on every important facet of life in T&T. During the period 1956-86, the political landscape assumed a bipolar configuration of power paradigm. This scenario was determined by the criteria of ethnicity and geography and not by ideological considerations traditionally associated with political organisations. The PNM was essentially a town-based party.

The incubation period of this new political NAR ONE LOVE response to the bi-polar configuration was temporarily derailed in 1988 and this was to be expected. Experiments in the political vagaries of mice and men involving fundamental departures from the trodden terrain need time for growth and development and gaining acceptance. ONE LOVE was the precursor of contemporary appeals made by Panday for national unity and inclusion. This constitutes the antithesis of the worst examples of ethnic and urban imbalance engendered by the politics of the Williams regime.

Notwithstanding this temporary 1988 blip on the path to the evolution of this new scenario the experimentation in the political culture of ONE LOVE persisted throughout the tenure of the NAR administration with moderate success. This was conducted on the basis of accommodation, coalition, national unity and equitable distribution of the rewards of the state between rural and urban constituencies as well as the progressive dismantling of the ethnic and geographic divides until December 1991 when the NAR dream dissipated only to be resurrected in new wine skins subsequently in 1995.

The year 1988 in which ONE LOVE started to disintegrate witnessed a temporary reassertion of the politics of ethnicity with the founding of CLUB 88 that culminated into the founding of the UNC. Accordingly the General Elections of 1991 were characterised by a return to the tribal bipolar ethnic configuration of political affiliations. The House of Representatives consisted of 17 Afro-Trinbagonians, 17 Indo-Trinbagonians and 2 whites. The tribal politics of the 60 and 70s began to re-assert itself albeit temporarily.

From 1991 the Opposition UNC acting on strategic considerations, set about deliberately to broaden the geographical and ethnic bases of its support or what was referred to as the de-Caronisation of the UNC. A spirited appeal targeted the urban-suburban electorate and the UNC accordingly diversified the ethnic compositions of its institutions and its candidatures. It was at this point that the natural, ineluctable forces of demographics began to assert themselves and to influence political strategies and thinking across T&T.

It is, accordingly, significant that the first statement made by the then PM Manning after the 1991 General Elections related to his desire to achieve equitable representation within the PNM Cabinet of the East Indian electorate/community.

In the 1995 election the results were 17-17-2. However in the aftermath of the 2001 November elections I was patently and palpably unsettled by another about-turn statement in which PM Manning, after having appointed a predominantly 29-member Black Cabinet, indicated that his aspiration of including the requisite equitable number of Indians in his Cabinet has been down-graded to the level of a cosmetic aspiration of the PNM even though there were enough Indians around via the Senate.

What then are the fundamental underpinnings of this new, evolving political conjuncture or culture that can impact positively and exercise a demonstration effect on the politics on the rest of the Caribbean notably in Guyana and Jamaica.

In the interest of brevity these would appear to be the underlying elements:

The Progressive Demise of the Maximum Leadership Syndrome and rejection of the concept of Neemakharamism, Chelaship and blind loyalty in Indo- politics.

Strengthening of the Democratisation and Collective Decision-Making Processes within parties as evidenced by the increasing calls for transparency and accountability.

The Progressive Assumption and Exercise of increasing discretionary Powers by Presidential Heads of State departing from the Westminster system.

A discriminating, enlightened and articulate electorate supported by ready access to rapid communications technology which foster and promote development and articulation of their political positions and posturing.

Transparency and Accountability of the Executive Decision-making processes.

A more investigative, highly competitive, vigilant press corps and activist journalism.

Rapidly shifting alliances and coalitions arising from a blurring of the ethnic and geographical divides as well as responsiveness to the imperatives of demographics. The policy of inclusion, the big tent strategy, the Government of national unity are manifestations of this new political culture including the change of policy recently undertaken by the PNM in discussing power-sharing arrangements via the Crowne Plaza Accord. This is a case of civil society re-engineering itself in connection with a qualitative leap into the future.

The issues of corruption, lack of integrity in public office and their negative impact on the poor and dispossessed sectors of the society.

Empowerment of the membership of political parties, the reward of loyalties and the defence of the political cultures of the individual political organisations. (June 3 National Executive Elections of the UNC)

Greater emphasis on servicing the needs of the respective constituents as well as vigilance of the stewardship of MPs.

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