Tragedy of election errors

By Raffique Shah
May 02, 2010

National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) leader Makandal DaagaHAROLD Wilson, Prime Minister of Britain (1964-76), is credited with the adage, ‘A week is a long time in politics.’ In Trinidad and Tobago, it seems that a day in elections campaigning can trigger changes that would eternally haunt one contestant or other. I had planned to write about platform promises by both major parties, whether or not they are empty rhetoric or offer practical solutions to the myriad problems that face the citizenry. In other words, they can talk and promise, but can they deliver?

Certain developments have, however, forced me to focus on critical issues emanating from both camps. While I am no political analyst, I am a political animal. I sense, I feel movement on the ground, most likely because I’ve been close to the political pulse of this country for some 45 of my 64 years. Within two weeks of following the cacophony on the platforms, I think I can stick my short neck out by saying whoever wins the elections, it would be by the proverbial whisker.

That will be the best result the populace can hope for, a gift from God for those who believe. What it will signal to our politicians is that, hey, we really do not trust you, but we are willing to give you an opportunity to govern the country. You play the ass with us, assume dictatorial powers, defecate on us from on high (as Mr Manning and his minions have done for several years), we kick your butt out of office, post-haste.

However, the multi-million-dollar question as to who will emerge winner changes by the day. In fact, as polling draws nearer, the prospect of victory or defeat for one party or other changes almost by the hour. If anything, this dynamic was best illustrated by the unprecedented actions of ex-Justice Hubert Volney. Until Wednesday last he sat on the Bench handing down judgements, and later handed in his resignation to Chief Justice Ivor Archie.

Twenty-four hours later he appeared before the UNC’s screening committee and was selected as candidate for the St Joseph constituency. Mr Volney correctly argued that it was his right to resign as a judge, and also his right to enter the political arena. No one can argue with that.

But, as Law Association president Martin Daly noted, ‘The swift descent of a sitting judge into the arena of competitive politics inevitably raises a concern in people’s minds about the Judiciary harbouring persons with political ambitions…’ Daly’s main concern is captured in two words: swift descent.

Had Mr Volney allowed, say, six months between leaving the Bench and running for elections, no one would have questioned his independence. More important, he would have saved his fellow judges from the jaundiced scrutiny they will all now face. His was an injudicious move that will be applauded by the unthinking UNC herd, but would make thinking people queasy. Today a judge, tomorrow a police chief…where do we draw the line?

The UNC and its Alliance partners will experience some fallout from this indiscretion. It will come mainly from people who think carefully before they vote, not from supporters who will vote for the proverbial ‘UNC crapaud’. The latter are in the vast majority, so there may be for the party to worry about. But the Volney precedent can return to haunt us for many eyars.

Meanwhile, Mr Manning continues shooting himself in the foot at a rapid rate of fire. Up to the time of writing this column (Friday morning), he has twice rejected Penelope Beckles, as a candidate. What is left is for Manning to deny her thrice, thereby joining Biblical misfits. That she presented herself for screening after she was rejected for the Arima constituency, speaks volumes for the lady’s loyalty to her party. Or maybe she is simply a glutton for punishment.

Again, without knowing the final slates of candidates for both parties, I cannot say with authority that Keith Rowley would also be cast aside by Manning. As the most eloquent platform speaker (as good as Manning, if not better), he is yet to utter a word in the campaign. In the interim, PNM neophytes read speeches laced with venom, heaping curse on revered elders in the society like Makandal Daaga, patriots who have made immense contributions to building this nation.

Manning sits there applauding gross disrespect for Daaga and others by these ‘imps’. Yet he will come tomorrow and wonder aloud why our young people show no respect for their elders, why they have gone astray. I know he reads the Bible, so he would be familiar with the term ‘sow the wind, reap the whirlwind’. I hope he can live with the consequences of his complicity in this derogation of Daaga in his political afterlife.

Both platforms are replete with rhetoric and promises, but devoid of substance. The PNM boasts of its achievements, which, really, fall far short of any government’s obligations to its people. To crow about having built or paved roads, made education accessible to all, provided free healthcare and so on, is to make moot points. Why else do people elect governments anyway?

Next week, I hope to address critical issues, providing Commissioner Philbert does not turn up as a PNM candidate at today’s rally!

5 thoughts on “Tragedy of election errors”

  1. Daaga is fair game Mr.Shah. He is contesting the election isn’t he? So why can’t PNMites young and old not criticize him?

  2. Makandal Daaga is the PAST, Keith Rowley is the FUTURE and Patrick Manning is about now.

  3. Respect for one another, respect for those who have paved the way for us, that is what the reference to Mr. Daaga is about. And during this election time, our leaders in both groups have a wonderful opportunity to model honor and respect to all, especially to those who before them, carried the torch. None of us should gloat over disrespect of those who have served our people in whatever capacity. It is a great people who honor their aged.

  4. “The Volney precedent” should not return to haunt us but instead should enlighten us for many years. Let’s be real, it’s a fact that the judiciary cannot and will never be independent since all the Juudges,DPP, AG etc are all political appointments and are part of the patronage system with window dressing of course. My suggestion is that the AG and DPP should be elected by the people. Let them campaign openly and say what they like and dislike about the system and how they can improve it without fear or favor. Judges are required to uphold the law that does not mean that should not have political allegience. We all know that they do so its about time they stop hiding beneath their robes and under their wigs.

  5. Your point is well made Cyrilo, about the need to encourage and independent Judiciary,but does the sugesstion of again,American style election ,not lead one into another trap where similaly like most poliiticians ,the candidates would become beholden to special interest,and voters ,whose actions would ensure reelections?
    Again, the well touted Privy Council in the USA,can be seen as a fine example of an independent institution,since it’s members are given tenure for life.It too is flawed ,since one’s ideological bent,dictates one’s chances of being selected,and a guage of one’s future legal rulings ,once confirmed,yes?
    The wiser course of action therfore,imight be instead to inculcate sound principles,and noble characteristics,along with a sense of patriotism in our kids,then hope that a few of high calibre, would decide to enter the legal profession.

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