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Raffique Shah


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People's Punishment

By Raffique Shah
May 30, 2010

I don't know of anyone, from political analysts to columnists like myself, who accurately read the swing that saw the People's Partnership barrel its way through PNM strongholds to win a resounding victory in last Monday's general elections. True, new Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the COP's Winston Dookeran were trumpeting from their platforms: there will be no safe seats for the PNM. But that call to arms was prompted more by expectations than predictions.

Most of us who monitored the campaign expected the Partnership to win, but by a narrower margin. We were wrong. What we underestimated was the extent to which people had grown to dislike ex-prime minister Patrick Manning and his arrogant cabinet ministers. Rage against a government that failed to heed the voice of the people was the decisive factor in the Partnership's victory. When one adds to that Kamla's appeal to people across race and class lines, and the hope that people have in the unity platform, maybe in hindsight (always 20-20!) the pummelling of the PNM was not unexpected.

So, congratulations are in order, first to PM Kamla, and to those brave souls who stood with her, who willingly buried their differences to battle the once-mighty PNM in what is now dubbed 'the grandmother of all elections'. They stood their ground against an incumbent party that used State resources in a multi-million-dollar promotional blitz in a desperate bid to hold on to power. The PNM also descended into the cesspool of politicking in the closing days of the campaign.

On the abuse of State resources, I hope that with the parliamentary majority it now holds, the People's Partnership Government would institute regulations that would ensure there is never a repeat of this by any incumbent party, especially in the run-up to elections. There is nothing wrong with a government trumpeting its achievements. But once elections are called, or for at least three months before any poll, no ministry or state enterprise should be allowed to go on any vulgar advertising spree.

Having dispensed with the formalities, let me now perform an autopsy on the PNM even as the party remains semi-comatose, groping for a way out of the grave into which it finds itself slipping into. The prime lesson the masses taught Mr Manning and his minions-and here I specifically refer to those who allowed the maximum leader free rein to bring his government to its knees-is that the people will punish any government that fails to pay them heed.

Mr Manning and his cohorts did just that. Oh, they will boast of 'good governance', of having implemented many programmes that benefitted the people. I don't know about good governance, but I agree that the party initiated several good programmes that sought to mitigate poverty and promote education and skills training for the young. Must, Milap, Hype, Yapa and the CCC (to name a few) were well-conceptualised, and with some tweaking, they may yet save some of our young people from the hellhole of crime and poverty.

The PNM government also brought some relief to older people who, for one reason or other, found themselves unable to cope with the rising cost of living and their own deteriorating health. I should add that while I fully support these initiatives, I wholly disagree with the culture of 'freeness' that is embedded in many of them. Imagine young people being paid to participate in these programmes!

In like manner, I disagree with the Partnership's platform promise of a laptop computer for every child who sits the SEA exam. Let us build a nation based on performance-based incentives, on meritocracy, on lending assistance where it's needed. Freeness breeds 'lochos', and these we can do without.

But back to Manning, who was the architect of his own demise. Those who warned him about focusing on the capital city's skyline, not on its base-lines (clean streets, good drainage, decent sidewalks, public conveniences), were dubbed detractors by the PM and his ministers. Allegations of rampant corruption were buried under counter-allegations of unwarranted persecution.

Some of my colleagues in the media unearthed vital information that the PM should have acted on with dispatch.

They all but wrote, 'Something is rotten in the state of Trinidad and Tobago.' Instead, he deemed the media enemies of his government. Informed citizens warned him against further expansion of the heavy industrial sector, suggesting we have reached saturation point. He branded these patriots enemies of the State.

As Prime Minister, he felt he was the fountainhead of knowledge. That led to unmatched arrogance which he chose to interpret as 'strong leadership'. Worse, many of the neophytes who sat in his Cabinet felt they, too, could follow the lead.

It's a pity some of the most offensive-Nunez-Tesheira, Abdul-Hamid-would fade from public glare, having lost their seats. But Manning, Imbert and McDonald will now face the wrath of the masses and even that of PNM loyalists. Manning got a taste of his own bitter medicine at Balisier House last Thursday. That is the people's punishment. Never again, they cry. Politicians, including the now-incumbents, take note. Never again.

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