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The Parang Now Start

Terry Joseph
December 13, 2001

As we prepare ourselves for the third annual general elections, it may be useful to design a template for chronic voting, one that goes deeper than "hold on to your party T-shirts because we could soon be back to the polls again."

What seems already clear, is that the electorate has settled into the habit of voting by hairstyle, so until we all agree to shave our heads, the result will likely be similar for each subsequent audit of political opinion.

With due respect to President Arthur NR Robinson, there is little he can do to dismantle a situation in which the issues of the day mean nothing to voters and where rum and roti inducements of the sixties are merely upgraded to competing schoolbook subsidies, pay hikes and pension increases.

Without the benefit of a guiding constitutional procedure, or even penalty kicks to help him decide, Mr Robinson now has the galling task of declaring a winner (aka appointing a Prime Minister) from election results that ended in a dead heat. With each side securing 18 of the 36 seats available at last Mondayís election, it is the quintessential diplomatic challenge.

That the incumbent United National Congress (UNC) scored more votes than the Peopleís National Movement (PNM), is being seen by some as justification for reappointing Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, although this country has long thrown out the concept of proportional representation. And make no mistake, it is now a very bad time to try to sell the idea once again to the PNM leadership.

However, since Mr Robinson was pressured by the very Mr Panday into appointing losing candidates to high office earlier this year, the question of how many votes a particular entity culled can no longer be the absolute measure. That Mr Panday has already telegraphed his decision to replace President Robinson when the current term expires on March 18 is also unlikely to ingratiate the decision-maker.

It is also useful to remember that in 1995, when the result was 17 seats each for both the PNM and UNC, the PNM Political Leader, Patrick Manning suggested he should be made Prime Minister, purely on the basis that he had been the previous incumbent. We may suppose here that the same argument now holds good for Mr Panday.

But either way, the party that gets to sit on the government benches will not be allowed to proceed in any meaningful way, as any matter put to the vote runs the risk of another tie when the count is taken. Of course, we also realised during the past year that the House Speaker need not take a count in crucial situations.

Political pundits have already begun warning that we could be back to the polls as early as Easter, presumably since no one dares disrupt the impending Carnival with another round of campaign promises. In any event, the constitution does not demand that Parliament sit more than once per year and that need not take place until March 2002, but that would only delay the inevitable.

But to go the same electoral route may be pointless too, as nothing in the offing guarantees we will not end up with another dead heat. Should that happen, voter apathy is likely to set in, making subsequent elections little more than procedural exercises, with the largest voice abstaining.

And what would be the point of returning to the polls with the current configuration of the Elections and Boundaries Commission? By its own admission, the agency has lost integrity and on Mondayís evidence, the EBC also seems to have mastered the art of inadvertently disenfranchising hordes of voters. Perhaps we will even need an assurance that this time around, their computers will function for crucial occasions like elections.

Of course, there is a lighter side to more voting. It would certainly give a large number of people great pleasure to witness Robin Montano getting another cutarse or see Mervyn Assam beaten by a man once derisively referred to as a "Beh-Beh".

At least another snap poll would facilitate Mr Manningís campaign speeches with a touch of much needed humour and offer him a fresh opportunity to shout a "Yoo hoo" to Robin and reduce him to a "picoplat" which, incidentally, is the name of Peter Minshallís Carnival 2002 presentation. And when the television advertising starts once more, we could be treated to video clips of Robin saying: "Iíll do it again."

When the fun period expires, the society will still have no answers. The blank expressions on faces in the crowd as Monday nightís results unfolded told the story. No one knew where to go from there.

Happily, for all the rattling of sabres that took place during the past 12 months, all the testing of the constitution was effected without civil disturbance. They keep saying we are a resilient people, donít they?

But seriously folks, it appears that we have exhausted the possibilities of current choices and must explore radically different approaches to governance. The Lloyd Best proposal for a "macco senate", one with 50 or 80 members who represent a broader range of interests, is perhaps one option we may have laughed away much too quickly.


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