Counting our blessings

By Dr Selwyn Cudjoe
August 24, 2020

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeOn August 2, about eight days before the last election, I took part in a programme that was hosted by the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre on the absence of election observers in T&T’s election, hosted by Dr Kumar Mahabir.

The question posed was whether the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) could conduct a fair election in the absence of foreign electoral observers. I answered: “It’s unfortunate that there will be no foreign observers at the August 10 elections, but I do not share the view that their absence would prevent the election from being conducted in a fair manner.”

I continued: “I believe that one’s political connections and/or ethnic fears tend to shape one’s opinion on a topic such as this. If you are a member of the UNC, you are likely to argue that the EBC, known for carrying out free and fair elections, will not act in a fair manner. If you are a member of the PNM, you are likely to say that the EBC has always carried out fair elections and there is no reason to feel that, in the absence of observers, things would be any different this year.”

I also noted that conducting our election in the absence of foreign observers demonstrates a part of our political maturity. “Elections,” I said, “are held in other countries, as in the United States, where voter suppression and other forms of voter fraud are present, particularly as it concerns black and brown people.

“The US does not call for nor do they have foreign voters for their elections, yet they proclaim their elections are free and fair. I do not know if there are election observers in the UK or French elections, yet they proclaim their elections to be fair and free. Why can’t we do the same thing here?”

I didn’t know how prescient I was until I read the observations of Tom Friedman who, in his New York Times column, talked about his fear of the US to hold a free and fair presidential election in November, and President Donald Trump’s elaborate plan to create suspicions in the hearts of Americans about the fairness of the forthcoming presidential election.

In his article, “Will 2020’s election be the end of our democracy”, Friedman complained: “This November, for the first time in our history, the United States of America may not be able to conduct a free and fair election and, should President Trump be defeated by Joe Biden, have a legitimate and peaceful transition of power…

“I have covered banana republic dictators who were more subtle than that in an attempt to rig the elections or undermine the votes for their opponents.” (August 18.)

Friedman was referring to the perceived attempt by Postmaster General Louis de Joy, a friend of President Trump, to sabotage the election by making it difficult for eligible voters to cast their ballots through the mail. In 2016, about 33 million, or one quarter, of eligible American voters voted by mail. Presently, about 67 million, or about a half of eligible American voters, support voting by mail, particularly in this age of Covid-19 (an ABC News/Wall Street Journal poll, April 2020).

Inherent in Friedman’s fear is the assumption that the US conducts freer elections than the so-called banana republics. After all, it took the US over 100 years after the US Civil War to allow black people to vote freely when it passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

However, even today, the US, particularly the Republicans, does everything in its power to prevent black and brown people from exercising their franchise freely and fairly. Last Thursday, President Trump declared that he will do everything to prevent black and brown people from voting: “We’re gonna have sheriffs, we are going to have law-enforcement officers and we’re gonna have hopefully US attorneys.”

We must begin to question the assumption that the US, by being an advanced economic power, is necessarily superior to other countries—these banana republics—in ensuring all of its citizens have the right to vote. This is not borne out by the facts. From its inception, the US has done everything to prevent black Americans from voting. It is a practice that continues up until today.

In spite of some hiccups, T&T can be proud of how it conducted its elections and the mature manner in which our people assume its political responsibilities. Approximately 58 per cent and 67 per cent of the eligible voters voted in the elections of 2020 and 2015, respectively. In the US, 58.1 and 61.6 per cent of the voter-eligible population voted in the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections, respectively.

We must be careful about the myths about the superiority of practices in these advanced economies as compared to what happens in “banana republics”. In some areas we perform much better than many advanced societies, which is why we should do nothing to weaken or bring institutions such as the EBC into disrepute.

This is why I ended my remarks on Mahabir’s show in the following manner: “Somewhere, sometime, we have to make a strike for our freedom and learn to trust one another. The conduct of our elections in the absence of foreign observers should be taken as a sign of a maturing democracy; of a people who have faith in one another; of a people who are ready to conduct their own affairs.”

We should thank the EBC for this. We should also compliment the politicians and the people for the responsible manner in which they conducted themselves. That we carried out those sombre civic responsibilities in the absence of foreign observers is an even more stupendous achievement. We should be proud of ourselves.

9 thoughts on “Counting our blessings”

  1. “I believe that one’s political connections and/or ethnic fears tend to shape one’s opinion on a topic such as this. If you are a member of the UNC, you are likely to argue that the EBC, known for carrying out free and fair elections, will not act in a fair manner. If you are a member of the PNM, you are likely to say that the EBC has always carried out fair elections and there is no reason to feel that, in the absence of observers, things would be any different this year.” I don’t see what “ethnic fears” have to do with it. The PNM has lost the elections several times; they did not question the fairness of the EBC. When the UNC won, they never questioned the fairness of the EBC. It’s only when they lost, they do question it. In other words, the issue is the questioning of the EBC as an institution. The PNM seems to respect the institution; the UNC seems to want to use the EBC to praise when they win or to attack when they lose. In other words they are not interested in the institution, they are merely interested in winning. That sums up their attitude to T&T, they want only power, they do not want to build up the institutions that are necessary for a democratic society.

    1. One of the things you have to understand is that the PNM has over a long period of time filled every institution in T&T with their supporters. After Independence Indians were literally locked out of the Civil service and those who acquired positions were upwardly immobile. This is the perception of most Indians in T&T.
      The PNM did not lose elections that often.
      The first government to unlock the Civil service was the Panday government and later the Persad Bissessar government, when numerous Indians were given opportunities. It almost seemed that they were making up for lost time, much to the chagrin and opposition of PNM supporters.
      The EBC was always under suspicion by DLP and later UNC supporters, from as early as the Eric Williams voting machine days. The EBC was always perceived as a PNM agent willing to tamper with electoral boundaries to favor the PNM and there is proof that this was done in earlier times.
      The PNM has a distinct advantage in the marginals due to the manipulation of boundaries and house padding. These are conscious and intentional as perceived by the UNC supporters.
      The Guyana experience created even greater suspicion of the EBC. If it can happen there why not here?
      There will always be unrest in Trinidad where the largest minority group feels under-represented and deprived of political opportunities and where the face of every powerful position is Black, from PM, President, CJ, COP, et. etc……

    2. Oh, how far thou hsth fallen! Selwyn Cudjoe is joke! Birdie, Kian, have you realized as i said before, that this man is avoiding criticising indian racism and the unc as a bedrock of it? Notice he hasn’t wrote about naila, anil and all the others? This man has zero credibility in the eyes of those who are sober, awake and focused. My, god! This man is endorsing Kumar Mahabir! What a disgrace!Have any of you read any of sick, twisted and dishonest articles that ICDN produces and has produced? They’ve removed the most violent and transparently racist articles after the damage was sufficiently done. This is an extremely toxic breeding ground for brahman-ist “Hindu Nationalism” and altogether anti-african racist hatred and dishonesty.THIS is where selwyn the sellout, is playing the token negro, to sanitize the MALICE! Take note of ralph maraj’s image displayed on the site, and his involvement on affiliated forums. That website is a joint operation, by Trinidad’s UNC, and Guyana’s PPP. Just looking at their faces reminds one of persons “consumed by the dark side of the force”….BUT….let them tell it, they are the “Keeper’s of the peace and justce !”

      1. You said, “My, god! This man is endorsing Kumar Mahabir! What a disgrace!”

        Maybe I am missing something. How and where did Cudjoe endorse Kumar Mahabir? Is it because he took part in a programme hosted by Kumar?

        1. What does endorse ultimately mean? Would you go to a forum held by Sat? What does his presence there represent, despite his views? Did you read ALL of my criticism together? Do you disagree?

          1. Yes, I would have gone to a forum held by Sat. I know what he represents and I would have welcomed the opportunity to challenge him, and offer an alternative narrative. As a matter of fact, I did call in on his programmes and challenged his views on many things.

          2. Context Context Context
            Great ! Good for you A. Hotep!
            However, Selwyn Cudjoe today, is a UNC operative, who has already denied sat maharaj’s malice and racism. He gaslighted african people, concerning indian racism and the UNC. When selwyn attends these lectures NOW, he is not doing so from a genuine african perspective IMHO, but as a UNC operative. Selwyn has already side-stepped Naila’s humanizing poetry and real, thoughtful commentary on UNC’s behaviour POST ELECTION.

  2. “We should also compliment the politicians and the people for the responsible manner in which they conducted themselves.” I disagree. I do not think that the questioning of some of the so called “marginal seats” was responsible. I think it was irresponsible and frivolous and time wasting. In Sangre Grande, for instance the UNC lost by more than 3000 votes, in Tunapuna and La Horquetta/Talparo by about 2000 and you call for a recount? The behavior of Hunt during the recount of St. Joseph was ridiculous showing the sense of entitlement that the UNC seems to revel in these days. I think though that the recounts were there to serve a purpose. They were there to announce to the nation that a type of behavior was forthcoming and to be expected from UNC politicians. They were there to continue the disrespect for the nation, continue the misinformation and lies, continue the undermining as they sought to undermine the credibility of the EBC. What was also visible too was the media excusing and justifying of this time wasting and illogical behavior. The only time that the UNC seemed to realize that a government was necessary was when the flood hit Penal and Debe and then suddenly KPB seemed to come to her senses and conceded after the EBC had already completed the recount.

  3. One PNM blogger put it very succinctly before the election. He said the PNM was fighting the media, social media, the UNC and numerous opposition parties, a bunch of “political analysts” and numerous opportunists and yet the PNM will prevail. And they did. It has won two consecutive terms. It seems that the trauma that was caused by the 33-3 victory by the NAR has been overcome. Since 1986 the PNM has won in 1991, in 1995 there was a tie PNM 17 UNC 17 and NAR 2, and a coalition government UNC/NAR took office, in 2000 the UNC won, in 2002 the PNM won 20 to UNC 16; in 2007 the PNM won 26 to 17; in 2010 the UNC won 21 UNC to 6 COP to 12 PNM: in 2015 the PNM won 23 to 18; in 2020 the PNM won 22 to 19. Since 1986 the PNM has won 5 elections, tied one (1995) and lost two. The elections the opposition has won since 1986 have been in coalition with another party, except in 2000 when Basdeo Panday won 19 to 16 with the NAR taking one seat in Tobago. So the only time the UNC or its predecessors have won an election without forming a coalition in T&T was in 2000. But the theory coming out from some theorists is that the UNC can win elections through what may be called a war of attrition. You grind down and demoralize the opposing forces and eventually you win, (showing them as eating grass is one such attempt to demoralize). Such a theory has been a failure for the UNC. The mathematics and the demographics are simple. If the politics is ethnically based, there are 40% “Indians”, 40% “Africans” and 20 % “mixed”. I am putting those categories in italics because I think they are not really applicable except in the widest sense. Those who are “mixed” are mostly mixed with “Africans”. The term “black” has superseded “mixed” in today’s sociological terminology. So election results based on ethnicity has reflected those demographic realities.
    Sunity Maharaj has an article out where she expresses the feeling that our ethnic antagonism is temporary, a kind of masking seen in Carnival, and eventually we will have this desire to go back to a “one love” as expressed under the NAR etc. What it is pointing to is that need for a coalition to win any election against the PNM. I think Sunity is mistaken on two points. Firstly those in the (let’s call it) the “third constituency” have been fooled enough by the UNC to know that they have always been used just for the UNC to acquire power and then discarded and turned into hapless victims of a war of attrition, like the NAR and the COP. And secondly much has happened historically since the NAR came into power in 1986 – the rise of “populism” or white nationalism in Europe and America and religious nationalism in other parts of the world, like Modi’s Hinduvta in India. Such ideological events have changed the world. We are not longer living in a world of Immanuel Kant’s “Word Peace” where a liberal word order was enunciated, guided by the ideas of cooperation through international bodies, where sovereignty was respected and multicultural respect was the ideal. We are living in a time where certain ideologies encourage racial hatred. Those ideas seem to have filtered down to some of our political parties here in T&T. It is like another type of virus and we will have to wait until we achieve some sort of immunity against it. Now that the population is seeing clear eyed about the UNC and the PNM it has made its choice and I don’t see any different choice in the near future.

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