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Shifting and Drifting Politics
Posted: Wednesday, December 7, 2005

By Stephen Kangal

Those Friday 2 December so-called unity talks held at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition were in fact the expression of the politics of convenience, shifting and drifting alliances and personality-based theatre. They are at complete variance with the tenets of the new issues-based politics as espoused by Winston Dookeran.

Several questions needs to be addressed:

1. Was it a real, meaningful attempt at achieving credible and persistent unity? Is the call for unity a catch-all emotive platform to serve every and any political purpose however devious including elections? Should there be a penalty for not uniting Panday-style?

2. What is the nature, scope and prospects of achieving political national unity in a democratic Westminster T&T society? Must we all think alike/not oppose foolish ideas of governance in an institutionalised Government/Opposition/ adversarial scenario?

3. Was the occasion at the Leader of the Opposition Office really ready-made for a public demonstration of healing and reconciliation between Basdeo Panday and Jack Warner exclusively?

4. How does the national unity theme stand up in the face of the only three UNC participants who had a different agenda ( determining a way forward) to the cosmetic UNC unity?

5. Under whose leadership (the personality factor) and on what manifesto for change and governance ( work programme/ agenda ) is it being prosecuted? What is the underlying amalgam for persistent unity and co-operation? Did not the unity collapse in 2001 because of personal vendettas and conflicts that took precedence over and above the wishes and interests of the people? How long and how many times can we exploit the theme of unity to promote self-serving narrow political agendas divorced from the necessary strategic objective considerations?

This is not being pessimistic. It is being practical and realistic.

The issues that surfaced in the context of the 2 December Leader of the Opposition Office talks as reported in the Press Reports of Saturday 2 December appear to be:

The Credibility Question

1. The question of the credibility of both the process (elections motivated) and the two principal actors (personality factor) having regard to Warner's public total and unconditional withdrawal of anti-Panday remarks uttered during and in the post National Executive elections- accusations that Panday is reported to have said were in fact true. (Ria Taitt and Gail Alexander) Can Warner's political pronouncements as distinct from his football's be credible and be taken on seriously? Will Warner's football adulation translate itself into electoral assets? Remember that George Weekes/Errol Mc Leod et al. massive labour support did not translate into positive electoral outcomes.

2. The view that it was mere theatrics (Yetming)

3. They were intended to undermine the Political Leadership of Winston Dookeran in his absence (Yetming)

4. It appeared to highlight and focus on Warner's defection/ change of loyalty in favour of the Panday faction based on his unconditional repentance and subsequent forgiveness by Panday. Front page photographs show them kissing, hugging and making up. It was pathetic. It was business as usual. Panday did not retract his negative remarks on Warner. That hug and kiss appeared to be the singular agenda for public consumption orchestrated by Panday. Talks of unity were peripheral and merely facilitative and incidental to this objective.Gillian Lucky and Dr. Khan were not invited to participate.

5. Denial by Assam and Sudama that there were unity talks (Sunday Express). To them it was to chart a way forward for the UNC.

6. Accordingly Warner's presence was more important than Dookeran's absence from the talks.

7. The presence of only Assam, Mohammed and Sudama and absence of Kamla Persad, Fuad Khan and Gillian Lucky are to be noted.

The Need for Credibility, Consistency and Sustainability in the Politics of Coalitions

It is becoming patently clear to me that the nation including the media is fast demanding of the political leadership and of all the political players in general adherence to a code of ethical and political conduct/standards that is based on the principles of both credibility, consistency and sustainability. (See Hamid Ghany's Sunday 4 December Guardian Article)

The New Paradigm

We cannot continue in the manner of the old political paradigm- the old formula- to underestimate and ignore the intelligence of the electorate and the temptation to manipulate them with racio- strategies and generating cosmetic unfulfillable expectations. They are unwilling to buy into because they know that these positions are untenable. I never underestimate the astuteness and electoral sagacity of Trinbagonains.

The Difference Between "Solidarity" and "Unity"

I think that the new politics regards real, genuine and sustainable national unity as different from the current electorally-based solidarity that is being mobilised merely to remove the PNM. It will dissipate into chaos and fragmentation when that objective is realised. That has happened before. Unity merely to remove the PNM is self-destructive, transient and lacks the glue to continuing internal cohesiveness and dynamics. It is the politics of a marriage of convenience that ends in divorce again and again after consummation.

Political parties must provide good and effective governance- aiming to getting the political mix right and/or delicately and harmoniously balanced. That is the number one priority. If removal of the PNM is conditional and a prerequisite to the achievement of good caring governance so be it. Unity premised on non-personality based, that is to say politics based on an issues, non-ethnic approach is more permanent and will not dissipate when the obstacle of the PNM is removed. It has longevity.

Unity at present would appear to be premised exclusively around Panday's leadership and on his terms and conditions. Why not on independent or credible leadership or the Political Leader of the UNC?
Can Panday continue to fool us all the time?

New Political Culture Spawns New Politics

I have always had enormous respect for the political judgement and wisdom of our peoples including that of the increasing cadre of the young and intelligent whose legitimate demands and expectations will determine the results of the next 2007 elections. A new political culture must give birth to a brand of new politics. That is the qualitative leap forward that motivates and excites us in forging a new political model of conduct and behaviour to be adhered to by people who hold public office.

While I agree that politics is the noble art and profession of the possible and compromise such accommodation/ consensus building must be people, issues and policy- driven. Shifting alliances that are dictated by personal political agenda aspirations, deals and power play do not have any part to play in the brand of new politics. We have to make a qualitative leap forward because our people expect this. We have to abandon the old formula as being irrelevant to dealing with the complex concerns, socio-economic realities and higher aspirations of a modern and more discriminating T&T. The population shows all signs of making the paradigm shift away from tribalism giving precedence to new policies, programmes and priorities in the interest of balanced development, equity and and social and distributive justice.

The Theater of Politics

The old politics in T&T may have degenerated into a stage where the actors in true theater style have their premature exits and their entrances according to the whims and fancies of the stage director. It appears to be of no concern that the people in whose interests politicians serve at all times are being adversely affected. Today they are being confused by dual leadership, shifting alliances, a gov't on auto pilot, woeful lack of credibility and consistency in political posturing and statements. They do not know who or what to believe- whether people are telling the truth or merely grand-charging only to retract their statements later- when people are joking or being serious- when aspirations are different from achievements. Will they kiss and make up again and must we take them seriously? That is the credibility dilemma of the people.

Conducting strategic shifting political alliances must not be justified on the grounds of and paraded as national unity. Genuine and sustainable national unity cannot be exclusively personality-based, personal interest driven and add to the confusion that is in the minds of even the most intelligent of our people. Solidarity is issue -by-issue based and is temporary like the 1976 Gold Medal, The Lara 400 or the Soca Warriors road to Germany or the 1986 One Love.

Real and genuine national unity must be fashioned and contracted on a sustainable and credible objective political agenda for change and political transformation- on ideological and philosophical consensus- if it is to meaningful, more permanent and make a difference to the lot of our people.

The locus of all that is done in the new politics is that representation must be regarded as a privilege to serve the people and not as an opportunity to self promotion, aggrandisement and personal actualisation. We must take the "I" out of politics.

The most important factors that are needed but seem to be missing in the political equation today are the credibility and the sustainability factors. The people who we serve at all times must be able to see consistency in the nature of their political conduct and ethical standards.

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