Vulgar grab for power
May 16, 2001
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GIVEN our latest experience with appointing local Roman Catholic prelates, a Bishop's tea party may no longer describe the model of serenity referred to by Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
Archbishop Edward Gilbert's ascendancy, bedeviled as it was by indecorous exchanges between powerful factions of the church, suggests that any tea party under his patronage at this time could unwittingly provide fresh opportunities for conflict.
Which is why Mr Panday might now wish to vary or clarify his comment on the tenor of the battle for top posts in his United National Congress (UNC) party executive, having told the media: "We are in a campaign, not a Bishop's tea party."
Indeed, Mr Panday's concern should go beyond comparison with other forms of public entertainment. The joust between two of three Cabinet Ministers for the post of deputy political leader, having so conspicuously degenerated into a thoroughly revolting mudslinger, should lead him to wonder whether there will actually be a party left to lead after the June 3 election.
Mr Panday should, therefore, take counsel from public responses and the behaviour of those closest to him. One clear signal is the speed with which seniors in the party hierarchy rushed to distance themselves from any affiliation with the hostilities. Another is the recklessness of one camp, in publicly debunking those who hold the strings of the very purse that so recently helped return his party to power.
Then there is the lunatic fringe. Whatever its origin, when a twisted slogan like "We've come too far to turn Black now" surfaces during the election campaign of a party that prides itself on the elasticity of its embrace, its leader should worry. The politics of inclusion concept Mr Panday so tirelessly preaches could be summarily shot to hell if such propaganda takes root.
But the campaign has thrown up even larger problems. And the inappropriateness of a Political Leader appearing to give a defining nod to any candidate, does not exculpate him from that larger responsibility of guiding a process so directly under his purview.
Not even the oft-abused umbrella of free speech or the latitude of democracy can excuse some of the utterances emanating from the vulgar grab for power currently being witnessed. After all, Mr Panday is among the loudest complainants against calypsoes that sacrifice accurate lyrics and good taste in the quest for public adulation.
Granted, Mr Panday's position is unenviable. Education Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, even with all her inherent talents, is the lone female in the race, bringing a gender consideration to the table, in a party that consistently trumpets concern for women as part of its every national campaign.
Newcomer Carlos John, already catapulted to the powerful Infrastructure Ministry, introduces an African-Trinidadian element, one spectacularly visible against the imagery presented by Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and his more vocal supporters.
If Maharaj wins, the UNC will have quite a job on its hands to dismantle the view of itself as a monolithic Indian party, galvanising against interlopers, by maintenance of an unyielding attitude toward persons from any other race.
Even among rational supporters, victory for John could alienate diehards and exacerbate expressed anxieties about a perceived bid by former members of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) to take over the party. It is useful to remember that Mr Panday's Club 88 (and subsequently the UNC) resulted from trenchant conflict with the original manifestation of the NAR.
Persad-Bissessar seems a less-than-serious threat at this time. Should she capitulate, any transfer of support or endorsement coming from her is not likely to be deposited with the Maharaj campaign. If she stays with the fight, her votes may be counted in some quarters as having robbed either John or Maharaj of a decisive lead and Heaven help her if they tie. In fact, the election race having come to this, any of the possible outcomes could split the party at its seams.
So Mr Panday cannot just assume a festive mood, throw his hands in the air and allow candidates to "get outa hand" or "mash up de party", as he might do with characteristic flair at an informal chutney-soca jam. Indeed, no leader should stop to fiddle with so much ambient heat in the place, while his frequently articulated calls for nation building, national unity and other equally noble sentiments are scuttled by underlings.
A quip that the UNC was laughing all the way to the bank, in retort to suggestions that one candidate had purchased some $250,000 in votes by paying membership fees on behalf of potential electors, doesn't help to refute allegations of voter-padding leveled against his party last December.
Ironically, Mr Panday spoke to the nation on Monday night, mere hours after the campaign sunk to its lowest. He described a programme of zero tolerance with those caught at traffic violations, a fitting response to increasing carnage on the roads.
Someone should also let him know our patience is wearing pretty thin with Cabinet Ministers who likewise seem bent on stopping at nothing to get to their destination.