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Raffique Shah


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Firestorm is a-coming

By Raffique Shah
January 03, 2010

Should political turmoil erupt in 2010, it wouldn't be because of the Property Tax or government's now toned-down spending spree. The opposition, united or divided, cannot trigger mass action, the kind we experienced in 1970. If anything, it's the extreme insensitivity of uncaring ministers-Peter Taylor's 'living off the fat of the land', Gaynor Dick-Forde's 'only 12 people against the tax', Neil Parsanlal's Goebbels-like, weekly media-bashing-that would send angry masses streaming onto the streets.

I'm not suggesting any such 'revolution' would take place based on precedent. People look back at the turmoil of 1970 and 1990, then fill in the 'blank' with 2010. It's a 20-year cycle, they claim. Psychic Yesenia Gonzalez, a bound-to-be-interviewed at this time of the year, has once more predicted political and social unrest. Maybe someone should do a tally of the lady's annual predictions, measure just how inaccurate she is.

There is, however, genuine cause for concern over what is likely to happen in this quicksand-like political landscape of ours. The first road-show is of course the opposition United National Congress's internal elections. Its results are predictable, and I do not mean who will be elected political leader. In a fair race Kamla Persad-Bissessar seems the likeliest candidate to unseat her political guru (from 1992), Basdeo Panday. Whatever the results, one fallout that is predictable is the implosion of the party.

Should Bas retain his core support and pull off even a narrow victory over Kamla and Ramesh Maharaj, no one has to guess what would follow. Kamla, Ramesh, Jack Warner and other 'neemakharams' would be booted out of the party even as Bas's bootlickers savour the bittersweet taste of high offices for the limited life of the UNC. Angry one-time supporters would jump ship in droves, leaving Panday with a battered pirogue filled with fat-rats. Should Kamla survive the mud volcano that will erupt when Bas hits the familiar trail, and she goes on to win leadership, she would inherit an empty shell that would, in turn, be forced to immerse itself in the bowels of Winston Dookeran's Congress of the People.

These predictable scenarios are what Prime Minister Patrick Manning is banking on to retain power. But he would do well to shed his 'darkers' and descend from the clouds to stare stark reality in the face. It is not the opposition that will bring him down, whether it's via a snap election in 2010 (stupid idea) or the scheduled one in 2012. It is disappointed People's National Movement supporters, those who feel trampled upon by their own party, deceived by elections' promises unfulfilled, who will do the damage.

When the NAR routed the PNM at the polls in 1986, the feat of capturing 33 of 36 seats came about only because PNM supporters punished their party for its many transgressions. Since 2007, PNM people have slammed their party for leaving them in squalour as the big-wigs, many of the latter new-born PNMites, live high on the hog, bacon and ham. Laventille and Morvant, to name just two PNM districts, have been all but abandoned to the adolescent warlords who call the shots, quite literally.

Besides intense seismic activity at the ground level of the ruling party, Manning's unfair attacks on party loyalist Keith Rowley have also turned off many long-standing balisier supporters.

Within recent times we have witnessed the shameless spectacle of neophyte MPs training their sling-shots at the one-time deputy leader of the PNM. Worst of all is Colm Imbert, who, when he was in trouble with the leader, hung on to Rowley's coattail as his security blanket, only to turn on his saviour now with a bitterness that reeks of sycophancy.

People look and listen, and they do not like what they are seeing and hearing. It's going to get worse in 2010. While the country's economy is resilient to a great extent, we are sure to experience the fallout from wanton wastage during the years of plenty. More people will be on the breadline even as the ranks of the underemployed swell. Senior citizens who have served their country well during their working years are left to fend for themselves, to rake-and-scrape just to stay alive.

Among the latter, many are denied what used to be 'old age pension', now transformed into a grant that is grudgingly given to only a small number of people whose heads are already below water. Those who manage to keep their noses barely above the swells are bluntly turned down by heartless 'welfare' officers who fail to realise they will one day be in the old geezers' slippers.

More worrisome for us all must be the large pool of young people, most of them graduates of an education system that does not prepare them for the job market. They were born and raised in a consumer-driven society (iPods, cellphones, laptop computers, 'brands'). Now they cannot even land ordinary jobs, most of them knocking on closed doors. What are they to do, their appetites whet with champagne taste, their pockets carrying only mauby money?

That, my friends, is where the seeds of revolt find fertile ground. I write with authority on this because I've been there, done that. A firestorm is a-coming. Fat-cat Taylor, beware.

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