September 29, 2002
By Raffique Shah
IT'S not too soon to start thinking about post-elections politics, about what would happen in different scenarios. The people of this country have experienced a kind of "roller coaster" politics for more than a decade now, the climax of which must be having to go to the polls three times in as many years. Last year, when on the night of the elections it became clear that we had an 18-18 tie, no one in the country-not the President of the Republic, not the leaders of the PNM and UNC, not the usually loquacious political or constitutional gurus-had a clue as to what should be done.
In the end, a political gridlock haunted us for every day that we had to live with 18-18. True, we had a government in place. It was a legitimate government in the sense that the Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, was appointed by President Arthur Robinson and a Cabinet was duly sworn in. But it was impossible for Manning to summon Parliament and elect a Speaker of the House because Basdeo Panday, having broken the Crowne Plaza Agreement, refused to allow it.
What if we end up with another tie? That is still a possibility although it seems to get more remote as the campaign proceeds. I sense there is a tide a-coming that that will sweep one party aside. But in the remote event that we do, what? Yet another general elections in a month? Really, I do not believe that the country should be subjected to that kind of political torture.
Eighteen-eighteen for a second time in as many years will signal that neither Panday nor Manning is capable of taking us beyond the gridlock. In such event, both men should be forced out of their respective parties, and if I may extend that, both parties should be subjected to intense introspection, to look at themselves and see if they are relevant to the society. True, they are the only existing parties that have bases, and one-the PNM-can be said to have a relatively sound structure. But of what use are bases and structures if you cannot move the country past the racial divide? And that's precisely what another tie would tell us.
On another 18-18 note, there is a feeling among a significant number of law-abiding citizens that a tie this time around could trigger racial violence. I do not subscribe to that notion for a number of reasons. But then I am no guru or psychic so I won't write it off. Still, knowing how Trinis are afraid of jail and death and bullets, I feel reasonably sure that if we do have violence it would be in the form of bottle-pelting and stone-throwing. We are masters of the latter "arts".
The other fallout from an 18-18 tie would be the gap it would open for the elusive "third force". Wendell Mottley would probably rue the day he decided to participate in elections that would destroy the participants. Others who have been waiting in the wings will be licking their chops, jockeying for space, for acceptability among the masses. As one who has had abiding faith in "the masses" from my early days as a revolutionary, I am not so sure now that the "masses" have not been transformed into "asses", judging from their fanaticism to leaders who are slightly more sophisticated than Carrera bandits. So those who hanker after the "third force" may well have quite a wait for their day.
Should the UNC win the elections, then that will signal to the country that the "masses" are not only "asses", they blind as bats. Really, it's only in Trinidad that a political leader who faces three charges of fraud, and who has not denied that he has a fat bank account abroad, could run for office. Worse for our image, he still has tens of thousands of supporters eating out of his hand, a clear demonstration that Desmond Cartey's "all ah we t'ief" blooper in the 1986 campaign holds more truth to it that we thought at the time he said it.
There is a saying that a people get the government they deserve. That would be so true if Panday and his bunch of unapologetic misfits were to be returned to office. But even in the face of evidence on the ground that signals otherwise, I have learnt enough about our people to not be surprised at such a development. It could not have been spelt out better than a brief exchange I had when I was leaving the UNC's Gasparillo meeting last Tuesday night. Panday was on the platform and the man, pleading to me to "return to the fold", said: "Yuh see dat man who talking dere, we 'ent want no part of him! He *#*# we up too much. But Shah, we have to vote for we kind!"
Nuff said about that! And what if the PNM wins? Lest Manning thinks it will be smooth sailing for five years, he'd better think carefully about how he intends to approach government and governance. There will be no "business as usual", since his supporters expect him to deliver on the many promises he has made during the campaign. If he can't, or he won't, then he could find himself facing an irate band of PNMites who will not allow him to get away with neglecting the masses at the expense of a handful of party hacks.
I'll tell you that Manning has been very effective on the platform, the best he has been ever since he became leader of the PNM. I have said to those who blanket all politicians with the statement "dey not addressing de issues" that they have not been listening to all the platforms and the more important speakers. In the UNC, for example, Gerald Yet Ming and Winston Dookeran do what their leader seems to be incapable of doing-they deal with serious issues. In the PNM, several speakers, but key among them Manning and Keith Rowley, have been addressing the concerns of the ordinary people.
The solutions they are offering are the best I've heard from a PNM platform ever. But are they capable of translating talk into action? Do they have the guts to break with tradition, to govern for all, especially for the economically dispossessed and socially displaced? If they don't, if they are only "mamaguying" people, then they'd better book their tickets to Mars.
Because while the "masses" may indeed be "asses", I don't think they will allow misfit leaders to ride their backs for yet another five years.
Copyright © Raffique Shah