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Raffique Shah


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Panday's political pyre

By Raffique Shah
November 18, 2007

If the PNM can take little comfort in its victory in the recent general elections, how must the opposition UNC view the results? Last week I alluded to what I saw as a decline in support for the PNM in many of its core constituencies. True, boundaries were re-drawn by the EBC and five new constituencies created, making it difficult to make clear comparisons with previous election results. But when one examines the numbers (compared with 2002 results), they must be cause for serious concern for the new Government that is supposed to officially start functioning tomorrow.

In Arima, for example, the PNM scored 8,603 (12,348 in 2002), while the combined opposition (UNC and COP) polled almost the same as the UNC did in 2002 (4,458). In the three Diego Martin (three constituencies), the winning PNM candidates averaged just over 9,000 votes each, a drop of more than 2,000 in East and West. A similar pattern was noticeable in Laventille, Point Fortin, Port of Spain, St Ann's East, Toco and Tunapuna. While the Prime Minister held on to his votes in San Fernando East, in Tobago the DAC came perilously close for PNM's comfort.

To counter these losses in what could be described as their base, the PNM increased its numbers in traditional opposition constituencies. The party's biggest gains were in Siparia, the sub-divided Princes Town, Couva North, Chaguanas East, and in all the marginal constituencies. I have noted for some time that more PNM party groups now function in traditional opposition constituencies than ever before. And, as Mr. Manning often boasted during the campaign, more Indo-Trinis were openly identifying with the balisier. This trend may have emerged because of the party's CEPEP programme, its thrust in education (especially tertiary), its housing policy and its many social programmes.

The UNC has blamed the intervention of Winston Dookeran and the COP for it losing the elections. I don't think the UNC, in any guise, could have won the elections. Still, one must ask who drove Mr Dookeran to form a new party? The COP leader was hounded and pounded by his ex-UNC colleagues in the most vicious manner. Having dubbed the leader "duck-and-run", and his party a "corpse", did the UNC really believe it could reach an "accommodation" in the vain hope of defeating the PNM? Had Mr Dookeran opportunistically heeded the call, he would have sacrificed his manhood on the altar of expediency. Most of those who voted COP would have cussed him and distanced themselves from an alliance forged in Hell.

Truth be told, Mr Panday fails to realise his once-absolute control of the "Indian vote", which he sought and won after the break-up of the ULF in 1977, is no more. Sure, he retains the loyalty of most Indians. But his grip on them has loosened-and this for many reasons. In his 30 years of active electoral politics, Mr Panday has won one general elections-in the year 2000. He gained power in 1995 based on a tenuous alliance with the NAR, and afterwards he reverted to sliding downward.

Analysts may have failed to notice that for the first time since 1976 more electors in Couva North voted against Mr Panday than ever before. The combined PNM/COP votes amounted to 10,088 against Mr Panday's 8,832. This is unprecedented. In 2002 when he lost the elections to the PNM, he polled 14,157 to his opponents' 4,696.

To better understand Mr Panday's dilemma, consider that when he first broke on the electoral scene in 1976 (forget 1966 that was an aberration), he won with 5,757 votes against seven opponents who together polled 3,445. By 1981, with the ULF split hurting some, he managed 6,938 votes against his three opponents' 5,557. But with the advent of the NAR in 1986 he rebounded with a high of 14,871 against 3,538. And after the fallout with Mr. Robinson, in 1991 when the PNM won for the first time under Mr. Manning, Mr. Panday polled 8,999 against 2,483 for his two opponents.

The UNC also created new marginal seats in St Augustine, Cumuto and Tabaquite. Worse, his much-vaunted alliances with individuals and "parties" that brought nothing to the table set him back 30 years in the PNM-controlled constituencies. Almost all his candidates scored embarrassingly few votes, losing their deposits in 12 constituencies. In contrast, only six COP candidates lost theirs, two in Tobago, where the UNC did not even contest the elections.

What do these grim statistics say of Mr Panday and the UNC? I'd hark back to history and liken them to the split DLP we annihilated (yes, I was there, up front) in 1976. When I beat Alloy Lequay and Vernon Jamadar, leaders of the two DLP factions, in Siparia, I felt for them because I respected them. These once-powerful men were reduced to mincemeat by a 30-year-old neophyte. Panday should not walk down that road: it's a fate worse than death. The blaze of glory he begged his people to send him off with might well turn out to be a party's political pyre.