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Raffique Shah


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Dookeran can break two-party syndrome

May 28, 2006
By Raffique Shah

Winston Dookeran's new-found spunk seems set to change the political landscape in this country. Ever since he first entered the arena back in 1981, Dookeran came across as more of an academic than the typical Trini politician. His stint as Governor of the Central Bank underscored this image of a man who has spent all his life in academia, and who seemed destined to stay in the backroom of politics, even though he served as a minister during the NAR period in government. But his reticence has clearly deceived the wily Basdeo Panday who, from his entry in politics back in 1976, has always sought to be surrounded by sycophants who would enhance his own image, but who would pose no threat to his absolute supremacy.

In agreeing to name Dookeran as political leader after he found himself hamstrung by legal complexities, Panday clearly thought he'd found the perfect second fiddle. He had no doubt hoped that the academic would hold the UNC fort for as long as he was tied down by the courts. Once he was freed from all encumbrances, in a manner of speaking, he would return to seize the reins and without doubt give "Dooks" the boot. But Bas' script has been scuttled by his own machinations. He all but surrendered his credibility in the courts, and now, in a desperate bid to destroy Dookeran, he ends up damaging the UNC beyond repair.

One needs to have one's ear on the ground to understand what's happening in the party's heartland. Mere months ago, with Bas before the courts and later in prison, there was much sympathy for him. Dookeran was then viewed by many party supporters as an interloper. But having taken stock of their chances of returning to power, UNC supporters now realise this is near impossible, what with Panday threatening to return to lead the party. At his birthday party last week, he said he had stepped down at his executive's request, but he saw no one who could lead the UNC. That was insulting to those who were present to celebrate with him, especially Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. But these underlings are so inured to insults, they cheered him on.

Meanwhile the re-invented Dookeran has refused to continue to subject himself to such indignities. He has not only walked out of meetings at which he has been pilloried, but he has dared to hold his own meetings inside the UNC arena. Time was when anyone who opposed Bas would not risk being stoned to political death in Panday country. Now Dookeran is proving that Panday's perceived supremacy is fast declining, that his absolute control of the heartland is dying a slow, torturous death. It has taken 30 long years for this to happen. Panday himself must be surprised that people he once took for granted, and who in turn worshipped at his feet, are turning away from him, many of them openly expressing disgust at his refusal to give the party a chance to breathe.

It is clear to anyone but the blind UNC diehards that the party's support base is badly fractured. Dookeran has not yet captured the majority of this base. But the tenacity he has displayed in challenging Panday must cause the Silver Fox sleepless nights. When Ramesh Maharaj left the UNC back in 2001, while he managed to garner some support in Couva South, his influence elsewhere was minimal. The same can be said of Hulsie Bhaggan, who, having split with her one-time guru, failed to rally the rank-and-file of the UNC.

But that's not Bas' worst nightmare. Of all those who have challenged him within his heartland, Dookeran has been the most successful to date. Because he's out on bail by reason of ill health, Panday cannot personally intervene to save himself from being cast into oblivion. Dookeran's fighting mode is also winning over the so-called silent majority, people who support neither the UNC nor the PNM. These people have sat on the sidelines of electoral politics, willing someone with credibility and ability to come forward and challenge the established order. They see in Dookeran a glimmer of hope, and maybe if he builds on what support he steals from the UNC, he can win them over. This is what none of Panday's previous challengers have been able to do.

I am not suggesting that Dookeran, in whatever party he chooses to face the next general elections with, will win out over a Panday-led UNC and the ruling PNM. But by standing up to the tribal politics that has kept Panday and those of his ilk more in opposition than in government, he's laying the foundation for a credible alternative to the traditional two-party system people have grown to accept. His fortitude may not pay dividends in the 2007 elections. But it will put paid to the notion that two man rats are destined to rule over us till Hinn kingdom come.