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Time running out for Panday

Express - March 11, 2001
By Raffique Shah

MANY sober citizens of the country are wondering why, after President Arthur Robinson backed down on the post-election impasse, the UNC insists on keeping the nation in a state of tension, on attacking other officials or arms of the State. They note, for example, last week's broadsides by Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and Attorney General Ramesh Maharaj, fired like loose cannons at the judiciary in general, and more specifically at Justice Ivor Archie. The week before that, Panday had vented his fury on a "rogue element" in the Police Service and the DPP. And two weeks earlier, in the heat of Carnival, he set the nation on tenterhooks by claiming that certain people were plotting to overthrow his government.

Why, people are asking, is the Prime Minister, whose duty it is to assuage the population following a bruising election battle, and to govern for all the people-not just those who voted UNC-why is he waging war long after a truce has been declared? Some are uncharitable in their comments, attributing his behaviour to his trade union background. As a unionist myself, I take great offence to that line of thought: we are not all rabble-rousers, mindless beasts bent on keeping employers unsettled or on holding the nation to ransom. Others suggest that the PM might be mentally ill, hence his outbursts. How, then, do they explain the AG's equally repugnant behaviour? Is he, too, on the verge of madness?

Neither of the two principal spokesmen for the UNC is mad. Panday has plotted his path to destruction very well, and the aim of his strategy is to drive this nation into turmoil, into a racial conflagration if it comes to that, in the event that he and his party fall from power. In other words, if he falls as PM, if his party is booted out of office, then the entire nation must be made to suffer, matters not that he has worked overtime to bring about his demise.

Let me explain. Well before the general election last December 11, and quite possibly before nomination day a few weeks earlier, Panday and Maharaj knew that they were standing on quicksand in so far as the candidacies of Winston "Gypsy" Peters and Bill Chaitan were concerned. From the moment it was revealed that the two men had sworn allegiance to foreign countries, every "bush lawyer" knew that they ought not to have run as candidates, especially in an election where the results were expected to be close. Still, the duo, and by extension the party, persisted with the two "foreigners".

Panday had really expected to win 24 seats in the "mother of all elections", and he even toyed with the idea of routing the PNM with a 34-0-2 win (the latter for the NAR). Had his dream or wishful thinking become a reality, then it didn't matter whether Peters and Chaitan were from Iceland or Antartica, the loss of two seats in a 24 or 34-member government would have meant little.

Incidentally, the pre-election confidence that Panday exuded might have been a mere "high". Or it could have been based on what members of the party's notorious PASU (a pale imitation of Hitler's S.S., Schutzstaffel, except I'd substitute the "u" with another vowel!) had assured him, based on the extensive work they had done in the marginal and other constituencies.

But things did not quite work out the way Panday had anticipated. So although he won the election by the narrowest of margins, his victory was tainted by the arrests of several UNC activists and supporters on election-related charges, by widespread allegations of voter padding, and haunted by the challenge to the legitimacy of Peters and Chaitan. Panday could not, in this scenario, go out there and tell his supporters the real reasons for the UNC winning 19 seats but sitting uneasy in government. He could not say that it was his dictatorial tendencies (put Chaitan in Pointe-a-Pierre) and his penchant for surrounding people who are hopelessly stupid (put Peters in Mayaro), that caused the party to win 19 seats but face the prospect of being left with 17 when the dust in the courts settles.

Scapegoats had to be found. He could not expose himself as the main culprit in government's demise. So target journalists and columnists. Attack President Robinson with full force. And as the day of reckoning in the court came closer, discredit the judge who heard the frivolous (misconceived, was how Justice Archie described the UNC's motion) motion, and knowing that the Appeal Court would more than likely concur with Justice Archie's ruling, hit the entire judiciary. Panday had to convince his supporters that there was a big conspiracy against him, against the party, its supporters, and maybe against all Indo-Trinidadians.

That accounts for his seemingly erratic behaviour at the party meetings he has been holding. It is also the reason why he has chosen to continue these meetings even though his government is safely in office, at least for the time being. Most UNC supporters will not question anything their leader tells them-it has always been that way with "Maximum Leaders", as witnessed when Eric Williams led the PNM. So if he keeps repeating that the media and the judiciary and the police are against his government, if the AG is arrested and charged with contempt of court (if I had written what he said about Archie, I would have been arrested and jailed), they will all say: "Yuh see what de boss saying all along! Is true!"

The other tactic behind these meetings and the wild charges made at them is that Panday knows that he will be forced to return to the polls soon. He is therefore preparing his activists and supporters for a general election. He will not tell them that after all the hard work they did last year, after they mobilised themselves as they never had before, they now have to repeat the exercise because of his dictatorial attitude, because the number of jackasses-in-lions'-skins he had around him put the party in this dilemma.

Panday is therefore fighting for his political life, hence his desperation, his intemperate language. If the party and the country are destroyed in the process, what the hell? Think about it: Panday "mash up" the ULF, he "mash up" the Alliance, he "mash up" the NAR, he "mash up" the coalition with the NAR. Need I say more? Need I tell UNC supporters and the public who is seeking to "mash up" the country today?

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