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And the winner is...?
Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2005

By Winford James

It is not easy to say even at this point, the eve of the elections. PNM people I talk to say it will be a PNM sweep, 12-0 or 11-1 or 10-2 or, at the very least, 7-5. NAR-DAC people I talk to say the DAC will take back its turf, by at least a margin of 1 (7-5) but most likely by a margin of 6 (9-3). All the independents (save 'Skippy' Thomas who has dropped out) think they havc a good chance. I can't seem to find non-partisan people who can provide a dispassionate assessment of the players' chances. And the NACTA poll, while predicting PNM improvement, which is to say at least 9-3, is based on data collected some 3-4 weeks ago, and therefore does not take into consideration changes that might have taken place since, particularly a claimed DAC groundswell.

With all that we know of Tobagonian politics of at least the last 8 years, the predictions from the DAC and PNM supporters come across as going beyond optimism into wishfulness - a wishfulness that could turn out to be deeply traumatic for people on both sides when the actual count is in. But they do show that Tobago is still pretty much divided into two political camps - not an undesirable state of affairs, especially if it results this time in a scenario as close as 6-6, or even 7-5 (in favour of either party). Indeed, I wouldn't at all mind a result such as 6-5-1 in which there is an independent, which, I hope, would open up the politics and force constitutional change, if not reform.

What does our knowledge of Tobagonian politics over the last eight years tell us that is material here? I am assuming, I must tell you, that our knowledge includes at least the following events: the retirement of Robinson, who ran a politics essentially based on his highly credible and sophisticated persona and on his ideas (some of them opportunistic) of Tobagonian autonomy; the emergence of Hochoy Charles as successor with a politics along the same lines (though with more radical ideas and methods!) but with much lower levels of credibility and sophistication; the collapse of the UNC-Tobago NAR rapprochement, particularly, the crash of the Pam Nicholson and Morgan Job experiments in a UNC administration; the disintegration of the old NAR hierarachy, with people like Hochoy Charles / Jeff Davidson / Murphy John, Pam Nicholson / Debbie Moore-Miggins, Allan Clovis, Raymond Ottley, Lorette Solomon, and Margaret Jack going different ways; the formation and quick demise of the People's Empowerment Party (PEP); the departure of Orville London from school principalship into political leadership of a moribund Tobago PNM; the defeat of the Charles administration and victory for the PNM in the 2000 THA elections; the resurrection of the DAC and the death of the Tobago NAR; wholescale migration of NAR people to the DAC; the administration of a politics of submissiveness, acquiescence, and maintenance by London and the Tobago PNM.

I read these events as showing that Tobagonian politics has been a picture of dynamism in a context of two more or less stable party constituencies, restless strong individual personalities, and hovering control from Trinidad. The dynamism pervades everything but it has left intact core PNM and NAR-DAC constituencies as well as control from Trinidad. In such a state of affairs, something as catalytic as Williams' punitive dismantling of the Ministry of Tobago Affairs, will have to happen to cause either party to have big victories in elections.

You never know beforehand, of course, what that event will be. We didn't know Williams' pettiness would result in long-running big DAC-NAR victories in Tobago. And we don't know that there is any event over the last eight years that will cause a big victory for any of the parties this time around. The PNM's 8-4 victory in 2000, won on the demonisation of Charles for his ADDA and Ringband adventursim, was perhaps a comparatively big victory in context, but to have been really big it would have had to be at least 9-3, in my judgment. What is there to cause a sweep?

Will continuing disaffection with Charles' style of leadership do it for the PNM when rising disaffection failed the last time? Will the dissolution of the NAR and the relative lack of structure of the DAC do it? Will the crappo dance of Cecil Caruth do it? What else is there to do it for the PNM?

Will disaffection with London's politics of submissive maintenance do it for the DAC? Will his inability to show the fruits of $4 billion in expenditure in Tobago over the last four years do it? Will the latest manifestation of Manning's foot-in-the-mouth disease, namely, his calling of London his 'beloved son in whom I am well pleased' and so his construction in 2005 of the Trinidad-Tobago relationship as an unequal, subordinate father-son one, do it? What else is there to do it for the DAC?

If there is a sweep either way, it will have to have come about as a result of one of those events above, and we will have to do the relevant analyses. But I don't think the events indicate one, nor do I want any.

The electorate will decide, of course.

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