Election bell ringing

By Raffique Shah
March 12, 2024

Raffique ShahOnly a fool, a fanatical partisan politician, or an academic seeking to enter the profession of predicting election results would venture to predict the results of the next Trinidad and Tobago general election, due sometime over the next year or so. I have watched with interest how incumbent prime minister Dr Keith Rowley gave his first signal, when at one of his party’s meetings last week he spent some minutes on the topic and declared the election will be “the most serious you have ever taken part in”. I found that statement intriguing: every election is important.

I think Dr Rowley will agree with that, but because over the last 20 years or more election results in T&T have been difficult to predict. This is largely because of 41 seats at stake based on the last Elections and Boundaries Commission report. The country’s future is decided upon by roughly 5,000 electors in five or six constituencies. Time was when PNM founder Dr Eric Williams, would, based on divisions by race in the society, accurately predict the licks he would hand out to the hapless DLP and other political parties that opposed them during the 30 years he held power.

Luckily for him, he died in 1981 before the race divisions in this society began to adjust heavily in favour of mixed ethnicities, leaving those who relied on race for their votes—the Indos and Afros—stranded like beached whales.

In fact, the first time Williams’ PNM faced defeat in a general election in 1986, it was a broad coalition of opponents to the PNM who came together as the NAR and dished out a resounding flogging of 33-3. Still, Williams had the last laugh. He had also accurately proclaimed in any elections in Trinidad, the fight will be the highly organised PNM vs the chaos that bedevilled opposition parties here since party politics began.

In the 60 years since our Independence, parties have mushroomed like wild grass. Some did not survive for more than one election, most stayed relevant for two to three. Only a few survived to tell tall tales of their exploits in the hustings.

This time around, some parties that evolved, and now revolve around controversial leaders who have survived on diets of diatribe, may yet enjoy another burst of publicity as their leaders make the most outrageous statements.

Take, for example, Phillip Alexander who claimed to lead the most popular party in Diego Martin. He participated in one or two, maybe even three, elections and with the bruising he received in those battles at the polls, he abruptly resigned some months ago, saying he was finished with politics. Fast forward a few weeks later and he made the grand announcement that he was back- like an old western movie star. But hear this: he and his party will now support the leading opposition party, the UNC. Now, tell me, what the duck is this? Is this man mad? Can anybody tell me?

Now, even as PEA-Head proclaims his absurdity, there came a burst of hostile fire from UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, when at her party’s meeting she snapped at her supposedly faithful allies in the form of “smaller parties”, warning their leaders to stop talking spit, behave themselves, or she will grind them to dust.

So, the Opposition seems to be fragmenting once more, even as new parties struggle to make themselves known in the midst of what appears to be an unholy mess in the making. Maybe that’s why Dr Rowley saw an opportunity, this confusion in the ranks of the Opposition as the perfect time to begin the general election talk.

He has the authority until August 10, 2025, to remain in power; he can go no farther than three months beyond that. He has no need for extra time, in my view. He is the PNM’s undisputed leader, and it seems they have decided to retain him at least until the next election.

In the Opposition camp, there is discord in the higher ranks about Persad-Bissessar’s ability to continue to lead the party. Dr Rowley should not take comfort in the weaknesses that have shown up in the Opposition ranks, because they will cuss Persad-Bissessar today then bow at her feet tomorrow—which is Trinidad politics.

Dr Williams enjoyed much the same, maybe even more than that. He once said, “When I speak, not a damn dog bark.” Indeed, those who dared oppose him were banished from the party, to return only after he had died. None of today’s leaders enjoy that level of obedience.

Those who are seeking to make such changes would do well to remember the fates that befell Winston Dookeran, Vasant Bharath, Karl Hudson-Phillips and one R Shah, who dared before them. I dared but never bowed.

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