Can they count?
By Raffique Shah
April 04, 2010
The past two weekends were rather unusual ones. Easter weekend started off last Thursday with Holy Thursday, which was also April Fools' Day. On Good Friday, while practising Christians solemnly commemorated Christ's crucifixion, many citizens were beating up on 'bobolees'.
This latter practice is probably unique to Trinidad. This time around, organised groups and individuals crafted effigies of mainly government politicians, paraded them on the streets, and then flogged them to shreds. Although politicians are usually targeted in this annual ritual, this year there was a surfeit of Patrick Manning look-alikes that faced blows and ridicule.
I suspect that Basdeo Panday ran a close second to Manning in the 'bobolee race'. Panday is still stunned by the public flogging he got from his one-time supporters during the party's internal elections. As if to rub salt in his wounded ego, there were his former serfs beating up on his 'bobolees' in his own backyard. 'Damn neemakharaams!'
I remain flabbergasted by Manning's announcement that general elections will be held soon, 'as sure as night follows day', to quote the PM. Had he made that remark on April Fools' Day, I would have considered it a prank. But he used a special PNM convention the weekend before, an occasion to honour the party's founder, Dr Eric Williams, to make his shock announcement. Williams, who had a wry sense of humour, and whose ghost no doubt hovered over the gathering, would have muttered: 'This boy has no sense of timing, no sense of strategy in fact, he has no sense at all!'
Why would Mr Manning call general elections at a time when his popularity is at its lowest? He has two more years in office to clean up his image, to lay the Uff Commission report in Parliament and let the chips fall where they may. He can allow criminal investigations into UDeCOTT take their course, whatever the outcome.
In China recently, a court sentenced four top officials of mining giant Rio Tinto to long terms of imprisonment and confiscated their properties after they were found guilty of corruption. There was muted protest from Australia, where Rio Tinto is headquartered, and where Mr Hu, who received a stiff jail in his backside, is a citizen. Way to go, Chin! And since the PM is a Sino-phile, he has only to look east for an escape from his dilemma.
If he must redeem himself, if he hopes to sleep in the PM's palace after elections, he needs to do more than walk the streets of the country like 'Mahal' (children, ask Mr Manning who 'Mahal' was). He needs to put more than the 4,000-odd people gathered at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre last Sunday to impress, to feel confident.
Having mentioned an independent estimate of the PNM's crowd at the convention, let me put to rest the untreated sewage party officials peddled to the public after that meeting. It was chairman Enill, I believe, who boasted that '17,000 persons registered as having attended the meeting.' I wondered if the Energy Minister got his 'zeros' right: had he said 1,700 persons, I would have believed him.
But he and his parroting colleagues are dead wrong. The Convention Centre seats 1,800 people in its main auditorium. Assuming there was standing room only and we double that number, 3,600 persons could have attended. Give some more slack: say people overflowed outside, so add another 1,000. That's still below 5,000. So where the hell did the number 17,000 come from? I dare anyone to challenge my calculations. For information sake, I can tell the public that a full Crawford Stadium, covered stands and bleachers, amounts to just under 19,000 people.
As for Suruj Rambachan shouting hoarse to the '20,000 people gathered here today' at the Saith Park rally, that was so much crap, I'm surprised some in the crowd did not stone him to death a la 'no-nose Brackley' (a Naipaul character Suruj must be familiar with). The mistake the UNC-led organisers made was to have a helicopter fly over the venue taking video-shots. If there were more than 5,000 people there, I'd eat my hat or my shoes!
I should ask Kamla if the party prohibited young people from attending the rally. I saw so many 'old geezers' in that crowd, had I attended I would have been deemed a youth-man! Where were the young who are clamouring for change? If at the peak of her popularity Kamla cannot muster a multitude of young, zestful activists, she might as well deem her inheritance the 'house of the setting sun' and waltz off into the sunset.
It's true that most people in the country are fed up with Mr Manning and his crew, and it's quite possible that when elections are called voters may just register their disgust by voting against the PNM. But that does not translate into a pro-UNC or pro-COP vote, even if the results show a massive victory over the PNM.
We have been there (1986), done that (1987) and the result was 1990. Do we really want to walk that road again? I should hope not.
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