January 06, 2002
By Raffique Shah
Imagine if you would, the following. President Arthur Robinson, faced with the 18-18 results in the last elections, and without consulting anyone, exercises his judgement in accordance with the Constitution and names the incumbent Basdeo Panday as the new Prime Minister. That would mean that PNM leader Patrick Manning stays on as Leader of the Opposition, which, for the purposes of this column, we take as being axiomatic. In spite of vocal protests from PNM supporters, Panday remains in office-and more important, in control of all the perks that go with being PM-police escorts, blaring sirens, circle of sycophants, and so on.
Panday goes ahead and names a Cabinet, which includes prominent members of the local and foreign-used "kleptocracy", and proceeds to govern. Now, changing gears some, let us assume that Mr Manning is not the gentleman he is known to be. Arguing that he should have been named PM instead of Panday, he brands Panday's government illegal, accuses President Robinson of being prejudiced against the PNM, and goes ahead to form his own "cabinet". He actually calls "cabinet meetings" at Balisier House, ignores the President and Prime Minister, and even seeks to have a few Bills drafted by his "Attorney General".
In this not-so-hypothetical situation, dear readers, what do you think the lawfully appointed Prime Minister Panday would have done? One does not need to dig too deep to find the answers to that question. When, in the wake of the 17-17-2 results of the 1995 elections, Manning told his crestfallen supporters to "go home in peace", he was accused of inciting if not inviting violence. In December 2000, following the 19-16 results from elections that were fraught with allegations of "voter padding" and other illegal acts by UNC officials, when strong protests emerged from the PNM camp, Panday, his ministers and his supporters dubbed Manning a "sore loser". And worse epithets were used to describe him even as UNC supporters were being arrested for elections-related offences.
In fact, during his short tenure of office as Prime Minister, Panday was ever ready to brand anyone who so much as whispered anything negative about his government as being "subversive". Like Lavrenty Beria, Josef Stalin's chief of security in the Soviet Union of the 1950s, Panday saw a "plotter" behind every newsroom computer, in every PNM toilet, and, as his own party began imploding last June, even inside his own Cabinet. The only reason he never had any of the perceived "plotters" arrested or charged or executed was that he could not produce any evidence of wrongdoing. And mercifully for us, we still have intact a system of law, order and justice that, for all its weaknesses, saves us from the lunacy of tyrants.
Today, that same Panday is attempting to make a mockery of our system of government-a system, I need add, that has had serious flaws for as long as we have had it. He calls "cabinet meetings", his sycophants sit around referring to him as "Prime Minister", and he to them as "ministers", he brands the Manning government "illegal" and he and his colleagues abuse the President in the vilest manner.
In most other countries, at the very least, he and his band of lunatics would have been sent to the mental hospital for "observation". In not-so-democratic states, they would have been arrested in the midst of their "cabinet meetings" and carted off to jail. In Stalin's Soviet Union, Beria would have had them taken to the Lubyanka and shot without so much as a mock trial. If other members of Panday's "cabinet" are not familiar with how similar political impasses were resolved in Stalin's Soviet Union, they should ask Comrade Michael Als or Wade Mark to deliver a paper on the subject.
By late last week, no doubt sensing that he was treading on very soft ground, Panday changed the designation of his "cabinet" to that of "alternative government". There is nothing wrong with the latter so long as it recognises the legitimate government and it does not engage in subversive activities. But really, why must Panday and his not-so-merry-men, having put themselves in opposition (as Ramesh Maharaj correctly pointed out), make a spectacle of themselves? What do they hope to achieve by adopting a non-cooperative stance, by reneging on the agreement they signed? Early elections-and another hung parliament?
Clearly, unless a few UNC MPs cross the floor and join Manning's government, we are definitely returning to the polls within a year or so. But-and this is where Manning has the backing of a large section of the population-not before the EBC is cleansed, before the electoral lists are sanitised. In the meantime, both parties, recognising the constitutional dilemma that led to the 18-18 impasse, should be working assiduously to see what mechanisms could be put in place to prevent such a deadlock in the next elections. Constitutional reform will take much longer, so the best we can hope for in one year are minor adjustments.
But Panday does not want to give up office, hence his call for "immediate elections". What will that solve? Will we not have to face another costly exercise, more than likely one steeped in futility? Because the tainted electoral lists the EBC swears by are recipes for riot. Oswald Wilson and Raoul John are lucky that this is peaceful Trinidad and Tobago, not India or Zambia or Indonesia. There, they would have found themselves on the wrong end of barbecue pits or having to flee from mobs bent on murder.
The main reason Panday does not want demit office has little to do with money. He can make ten times the PM's remuneration as an ex-Prime Minister who happens to be an attorney. Panday's problem is when he first became PM and he and Oma tasted the goodies that go with the office, they were so entranced they thought the good times would roll on forever. Ponder on it, plebes. A senior Defence Force officer at your beck and call, extra duties included; a full staff to service your every need; police escorts and security of proportions that would make the US President envious; and sycophants aplenty, all eager to massage whatever part of your anatomy you want.
Do you think it's easy for Panday and Oma to walk away from that? Or for his ministers, many of whom had become as arrogant and abusive as their boss, to revert to "pothound" status? Eating humble pie is unpalatable for those who used high office to defecate on ordinary people. I pity the poor buggers.
Copyright © Raffique Shah