TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO POLITICS: PATRICK’S IN TROUBLE
If you want to get a pulse beat on what’s really going on in Trinidad and Tobago society, then all you have to do get down there during the carnival season and go to the calypso tents. Calypso usually reflects the harsh realities of life in these twin islands; and sometimes they can be brutally harsh with their truths. During the past three carnival seasons, many a calypso singer has recorded his/her disgust with the leadership of Prime Minister Patrick Manning and the ruling political party (PNM).
As I write this column, the naked truth is this: on any given day, you are about ten times more likely to be murdered in Trinidad than in New York. And if you compare crime stats coming out from the island(s) with those from England, then London is over 50 times safer than TNT; similarly situated (though lower) is Canada, Cuba and near every other state in the USA.
Over the last twenty years, Trinidad has been stubbornly climbing towards becoming one of the murder capitals of the world. Since the turn of the new century -and within the western hemisphere- it has already made top ten lists in the murder and kidnapping categories many times over. And despite the fact that kidnappings have ostensibly abated over the last few years, other crimes such as theft, fraud, gun violence, carjacking (s), daylight and highway robbery, continue to occur unchecked and unabated. It’s a mess. It has been a mess for years now.
What has been baffling to many is the inability of the ruling political party to advance even basic ideas for solving the crime problem facing terrified residents.
The ruling party is the People’s National Movement (PNM). It was founded in 1956 by a noted historian (now deceased) named Eric Williams (PhD). The PNM has held the reigns of power over these twin islands for about 42 of the past 54 years. The party itself has been elevated to iconic status within the polity. Some of its supporters/members gladly (and ridiculously) proclaim their loyalty until death. And therein lies a major problem affecting all island residents -PNMites or not.
When it comes to objectively evaluating PNM as a successful political entity, there is no rationality (or common sense) from the diehards. This has been going on since the party’s inception. I know this all too well, because my father was one of the founding members of this party. He was also an official, a once elected councilman, and one of its original general council members and candidates in 1956.
When it comes to evaluating how successful the party has been -when given control of the instruments of government/power - there is little or no honesty from its puerile dependents. When it comes to critiquing (or questioning) the performance(s) in office of successive PNM regimes, one can be viewed as treasonous: especially if you are Negro. When it comes to challenging myths created by its leaders one can be viewed as a heretic. The PNM sycophants can be obscenely loyal: and to a fault. The saying: “PNM till ah dead”, has taken too many innocent lives without being properly re-evaluated.
The ideas around unifying all the political elements for the country’s intrinsic good, has nearly always fallen on the deaf ears of egotistic and narcissistic PNMites; and it has nearly always been left to opposition forces to generate a collective and collaborative approach to problem-solving on a national scale. This year, another attempt at national unity has been undertaken once more, by a coalition of opposition political parties. In order to be efficacious in these upcoming elections, they have decided to join forces despite many fundamental differences. At least twice before in the twin-island’s political history, we have seen united forces combining to remove the government in power. It is probably going to happen again in a few weeks: don’t be surprised if it does.
Under successive PNM regimes, this little island -rich in oil and natural gas- has become a hotbed of corruption and a land of no direction. This is not to say that various opposition parties haven’t been corrupt when in power, since they have; they too have seen some members succumb to human weaknesses and failings when in office: just look at the many court cases awaiting trial with former ministers and top government officials (of both PNM and their opposition) sweating bullets.
If only because of the length of time they have held power, the People’s National Movement political party has to bear the brunt of the responsibility for what this society has devolved into: a violent, decadent, drug infested den of corruption, greed, racialism and fear. On May 24th, voters return to the polls to elect a new government; half way through the legal term allowed for the old one. And if the last election is a barometer: the PNM and its political leader Mr. Patrick Manning are headed for big trouble.
For the first time in its history, TNT will have over a million registered voters for the next election. Last time out (5th November, 2007) over nine hundred thousand citizens registered to vote. From that number, 653,882 voters showed up. This represented around two-thirds of the registrants participating.
In that election PNM only garnered 46% of the votes cast, but won a disproportionate 26 out of 41 seats in parliament. The main opposition party (United National Congress) and a coalition of six other smaller political parties, coalesced to contest the elections under an alliance of convenience -since UNC had some serious credibility issues around the corruption which took place while they were in office in earlier years. This group garnered roughly 30% of the voters, and disproportionately (again) won 16 seats in parliament.
Almost a quarter of the votes cast in that election went to an embryonic political party named the Congress of the People (COP). This splinter group from the UNC, which was idealistic in their aim to break TNT away from its traditional “race-line” voting habits -a monumental task indeed- received nearly 150,000 votes. They have worked hard since that day, to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural political party, in hopes of transcending the racial politics, historically plaguing the polity. Their university-lecturer leader (Winston Dookeran) has again shelved his political ego in hopes of attaining some measure of successful national unity. He has calmly given up fighting for the leadership of the coalition in order to move forward to the election. I suspect that his sacrifice will be rewarded this time around. He will not be the Prime Minister this time around (unless unforeseen circumstances arise), but he could certainly become the queen-maker (Kamla Persad-Biessessar).
At least 75% of the country’s population is either of East-Indian or African (Negro) descent. The strong world-wide perception being that PNM is primarily representative of the Afros in the polity, and that the membership of the UNC is overwhelmingly East-Indian. Historically, in areas where these racial groups dominate, the results have been predictable along racial lines: except in cases where issues of corruption in government surfaced during (or long before) election time. In too many instances the tribal party’s candidate -no matter how inept, uneducated or corrupt- has won seats to parliament without breaking into a stroll even. Race has been a major factor in the election results of Trinidad and Tobago for eons.
Over the last thirty months or so, many issues -around wasteful government spending and corruption- have surfaced. This has led to the Prime Minister (Manning) proroguing parliament a few weeks ago, and calling this snap election (ostensibly) in order to avoid a no-confidence motion/debate that the opposition had submitted.
It further appears that Mr. manning has refused to give any satisfying (to many) explanations as to why he took this drastic action. There are abounding suspicions that too many skeletons lie hidden in his political closet, relative to the functioning of quasi-governmental entities responsible for certain developmental projects -where there have been widespread cost-overruns, fraud, waste and the like. So now TNT people hit the polls for the seventh time in roughly twenty years. And national elections are becoming a joke of sorts, since some of the seats being contested appear to have pre-ordained results. Que lastima!
I am hard-pressed to see PNM improving on their last showing; thus I expect them to lose some of the seats they now hold. When the dust is cleared it appears that the results will be again close: unless the many vocal folks who seem to be tired and fed-up with Patrick Manning’s sterile leadership, come out in droves to vote against him (especially) and his party.
Patrick’s National Movement (PNM) is headed for trouble, once the opposition forces which have united to contest this election stay united throughout the election season. Like a calypso from the seventies put it: “Patrick in Trouble” (but he is to blame). His only hope is that the opposition forces disintegrate before the election is held; since that too has happened before. However, I doubt it will happen this time around, since there are a lot of tired voters in TNT: people who have had enough of Patrick Manning’s boring shenanigans.
Stay tuned in folks.
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