January 10, 2001 By Keith Smith

With bated breath

When, I wonder, will the Prime Minister present his case? What I mean is, when will he reply to The Speech with his speech? I know that, so far, he has wrapped himself in the flag of the Constitution but, even if he prevails, I donít see how he can not answer the charges made against him by Mr Robinson, not the least being that he is bent on subverting rather than promoting democracy.

Or, to put the question on a less lofty level, when is he going to explain to the nation why he thinks it necessary to have the unsettling seven in his government, if not his cabinet, that answer, if I may make bold to suggest, having to do with putting a ďnational unityĒ face on his administration, to say nothing of his ongoing need for administrative competence.

I donít know that these are the real reasons, and others have carped that it is all a smartman plot to have these so-called losers service the constituencies they lost on public rather than party money but I donít see how it could be in Mr Pandayís interest not to meet and deal with Mr Robinson on the level he has placed the debate even if he sees himself and we know him to be a fighter rather than a philosopher, more at home in the ring than in the salon.

The thing is that the President has left the Prime Minister with a job of persuading separate from the insistence on power, Mr Robinson having moved the ball outside the marked lines as it were and while I am not, yet, prepared to define it as a whole new ball game, what has been thrust upon us, certainly, is a re-examination of the rules.

I would expect then that, even as we speak, Mr Panday and his writers are working on a counter-speech designed both to box Mr Robinson in as well as allay the fears that he has raised, there being more than an outside chance, I think, that events will lead us, sooner rather than later, back to the poll with a galvanised PNM decking themselves in Mr Robinsonís new plumage, taking his case out of Presidentís House and into the hustings.

Certainly Mr Panday telegraphed early enough the poll possibility, although I guess that, even now, he must be weighing that particular option with an eye on the issues either before or hovering around the courts, Mr Robinsonís bolt from the blue, it seems to me, having advanced rather than retarded the likelihood.

And, given the closeness of that race, it would take a foolhardy UNCite to bet the house on a conclusive victory for Mr Panday, Mr Robinson now running ahead of Mr Manning as leader of the Opposition which, when you consider the history of the fights among the forces, makes you wonder if Trinidad and Tobago has not been on a merry-go-round akin to spinning top in mud and whether what we need now, in truth, is not a different set of players, unencumbered by the ethnic and other baggage that has, for so long, weighed the country down.

What, though, can we expect in a second round of elections different from the first? Can we expect that the Robinson intervention will become one of the determining issues? What I mean is that while we cannot expect an election in which ethnic affiliation plays no part, can we expect an election in which the Constitution is the decisive issue, 40 years after Independence the country thinking about whether to invent a new relationship between the governed and the governing or whether to leave one man as boss while we do the best that we can do?

I may well, though, be running ahead of time since we have reached a pass where things can change over a matter of days, or hours for that matter. Truth is danger, that is to say, mistakes lurk in long and even medium-term predictions, given that there is no way of knowing what moves are being made behind the scenes and who is trying to manipulate whom. In these testing times so many things are up in the air. I mean, look! I have spent all this time musing much on the forces galvanising around the most political of all our presidents and around the most pugnacious of all our prime ministers and yet there remains the question of whether, even if given the chance of a better showing in, shall we say, the second half, the PNM can find it in itself to go into the game whole with leaders better able to play a different kind of role.

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