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Raffique Shah


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Make way for the young and the brave

By Raffique Shah
October 28, 2007

I must confess I've been having much fun during this elections campaign. Listening nightly to all three parties as they tear into each other, I can be accused of being unfair to those in the race who, really, are worthy candidates. Elections campaigning can become boring to journalists who must listen to the same speeches, night after night, with hardly a new pronouncement made. It's a challenge for main speakers to come up with new, exciting comments, and here I write from experience. When one has to speak at three meetings a night as polling day draws nearer, one's speeches become standard. In effect, you end up reciting, rather than delivering your speech.

For supporters, especially those who are "bussed" in their thousands to meetings, rallies, and now concerts, they could not be bothered with what speakers spout from platforms. Most of them are so busy getting drunk and blowing horns or whistles, they couldn't give a damn. In any event, they will have already made up their minds on how they will vote, so what else matters? I've attended meetings at which the inebriated often sound these jarring horns at inappropriate times.

But for them, it's a case of freeness for a few weeks, so why not enjoy it? I've seen as many as 50 maxi-taxis (mostly 25-seaters!) and two buses at UNC main meetings, and similar numbers at PNM meetings. Having not attended the COP's big rallies, I can say I see few, if any, maxi-taxis, and smaller crowds, at the party's regional meetings. I don't know if there is a co-relation between free transport and crowds, if the COP does not have the ground-support, or if COPpers are lying like mapipires, ready to strike on polling day.

I do not wish to make comparisons between the only time I was part of the "ULF steamroller" 30 years ago, and today's modern campaigning style. Suffice it to say that we could not afford to lend our supporters a bicycle, far less send buses or maxi-taxis for them.

Only on elections day we had volunteer vehicle owners help transport voters to polling stations. Mostly, however, they walked or cycled or travelled to our meetings. And when I think of the size of crowds we attracted at venues like Penal Junction, Harris Promenade, Couva, Chaguanas, San Juan (where Kamal was king) and St. Augustine, they were as big as what the parties are getting today.

Can the PNM and UNC explain why they see it fit to hold concerts instead of meetings at which they educate, not entertain, the youths? Worse, these shindigs seem to have more reggae artistes than local performers. And this when ex-police officer Desmond Lambert, now a COP candidate, swears that "rappers" have been instruments of criminality, not of peace. If that's the only way these parties feel they can win the youth vote, aren't they perpetuating the "gangsta culture"? And they hope to address the crime spiral? Maybe they should consider giving young men their favourite "toys", handguns, which they can fire off at meetings the way they do in elections in the Gaza and Pakistan.

I should add, though, in this polluted political lake, there is some hope on the horizon. I may miss out on some names here, but there are some very good speakers who, for me, are the future of politics if they are not cut down by leaders who always feel threatened by intelligent people. In the PNM, Christine Kangaloo, Kennedy Swaratsingh, Amery Brown, Neil Parsanlal and Esther Le Gendre have been impressive. Of course they play fifth-fiddle to their leader, and to stalwarts like Keith Rowley (de hardest and baddest on any platform!), Camille Robinson-Regis and Pennelope Beckles.

In the UNC, Vasant Bharath has evolved into a dynamic speaker. When he steers clear of mauvais langue, he's very good. Ravi Rattiram impresses, as does Mickela Panday, who probably inherited the "gift of the gab". Among the party's main speakers, when Basdeo Panday eschews venom, he remains one of the best platform speakers. But all too often he descends into the pit, at which point he comes across like a pitbull. Kamla is also good, but monotonous, because she hardly modulates her voice during delivery.

The COP, maybe because it's a new party, has produced some of the better young speakers on its platform. Nicole Dyer-Griffith is by far one of the best. Her delivery is clear, she hardly makes grammatical errors (Oh Gawd...some of these speakers assault the English language!), and she rarely descends into the "pit". Young attorneys like Prakash Ramadhar and Anand Ramlogan, perform well, as can be expected. The latter, however, allows himself to be carried away by emotions, and often has a raw edge to his delivery. There's a Sherwin Alleyne in D'Abadie, whom I know nothing of. But I heard him deliver a simple but very effective speech that really impressed.

As the old make way for the young (shall we ever see this happen?), I can only hope that the young and the brave who have taken this giant step will not degrade themselves. I trust they will lift the level of our politics, not lower the bar.