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Raffique Shah


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Tragedy of election errors

By Raffique Shah
May 02, 2010

Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of Britain (1964-76), is credited with the adage, 'A week is a long time in politics.' In Trinidad and Tobago, it seems that a day in elections campaigning can trigger changes that would eternally haunt one contestant or other. I had planned to write about platform promises by both major parties, whether or not they are empty rhetoric or offer practical solutions to the myriad problems that face the citizenry. In other words, they can talk and promise, but can they deliver?

Certain developments have, however, forced me to focus on critical issues emanating from both camps. While I am no political analyst, I am a political animal. I sense, I feel movement on the ground, most likely because I've been close to the political pulse of this country for some 45 of my 64 years. Within two weeks of following the cacophony on the platforms, I think I can stick my short neck out by saying whoever wins the elections, it would be by the proverbial whisker.

That will be the best result the populace can hope for, a gift from God for those who believe. What it will signal to our politicians is that, hey, we really do not trust you, but we are willing to give you an opportunity to govern the country. You play the ass with us, assume dictatorial powers, defecate on us from on high (as Mr Manning and his minions have done for several years), we kick your butt out of office, post-haste.

However, the multi-million-dollar question as to who will emerge winner changes by the day. In fact, as polling draws nearer, the prospect of victory or defeat for one party or other changes almost by the hour. If anything, this dynamic was best illustrated by the unprecedented actions of ex-Justice Hubert Volney. Until Wednesday last he sat on the Bench handing down judgements, and later handed in his resignation to Chief Justice Ivor Archie.

Twenty-four hours later he appeared before the UNC's screening committee and was selected as candidate for the St Joseph constituency. Mr Volney correctly argued that it was his right to resign as a judge, and also his right to enter the political arena. No one can argue with that.

But, as Law Association president Martin Daly noted, 'The swift descent of a sitting judge into the arena of competitive politics inevitably raises a concern in people's minds about the Judiciary harbouring persons with political ambitions...' Daly's main concern is captured in two words: swift descent.

Had Mr Volney allowed, say, six months between leaving the Bench and running for elections, no one would have questioned his independence. More important, he would have saved his fellow judges from the jaundiced scrutiny they will all now face. His was an injudicious move that will be applauded by the unthinking UNC herd, but would make thinking people queasy. Today a judge, tomorrow a police chief...where do we draw the line?

The UNC and its Alliance partners will experience some fallout from this indiscretion. It will come mainly from people who think carefully before they vote, not from supporters who will vote for the proverbial 'UNC crapaud'. The latter are in the vast majority, so there may be for the party to worry about. But the Volney precedent can return to haunt us for many eyars.

Meanwhile, Mr Manning continues shooting himself in the foot at a rapid rate of fire. Up to the time of writing this column (Friday morning), he has twice rejected Penelope Beckles, as a candidate. What is left is for Manning to deny her thrice, thereby joining Biblical misfits. That she presented herself for screening after she was rejected for the Arima constituency, speaks volumes for the lady's loyalty to her party. Or maybe she is simply a glutton for punishment.

Again, without knowing the final slates of candidates for both parties, I cannot say with authority that Keith Rowley would also be cast aside by Manning. As the most eloquent platform speaker (as good as Manning, if not better), he is yet to utter a word in the campaign. In the interim, PNM neophytes read speeches laced with venom, heaping curse on revered elders in the society like Makandal Daaga, patriots who have made immense contributions to building this nation.

Manning sits there applauding gross disrespect for Daaga and others by these 'imps'. Yet he will come tomorrow and wonder aloud why our young people show no respect for their elders, why they have gone astray. I know he reads the Bible, so he would be familiar with the term 'sow the wind, reap the whirlwind'. I hope he can live with the consequences of his complicity in this derogation of Daaga in his political afterlife.

Both platforms are replete with rhetoric and promises, but devoid of substance. The PNM boasts of its achievements, which, really, fall far short of any government's obligations to its people. To crow about having built or paved roads, made education accessible to all, provided free healthcare and so on, is to make moot points. Why else do people elect governments anyway?

Next week, I hope to address critical issues, providing Commissioner Philbert does not turn up as a PNM candidate at today's rally!

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