Friday, January 25, 2013

Commentary: Time to move forward in Tobago; TOP voice remains strong

Every critic and "expert" will be passing judgment on what happened or did not happen in Tobago on Monday and one of the "expert" opinions I am already hearing is that Tobago is PNM country and TOP is finished.

Well I have news for all who believe that. Tobago is not PNM country and thousands of Tobagonians don't agree with Chief Secretary Orville London that "life under the PNM is a good life." That is the opinion of the PNM, which won 12 out of 12 seats, handing TOP a good 'cut arse'. 
PNM celebration Monday night
However TOP is far from finished, although it went from four to zero, which makes Ashworth Jack look like a loser. The truth is no there no shame in falling; the tragedy is failing to rise again. And TOP will rise again!

I had nothing to do with the campaign and was not anywhere near Tobago. So my observations and comments are based on what I have seen and read during the "polarising" - to use London's own words - and bruising campaign that just ended.

First, let's be fair to TOP. It may not have had the most focused campaign but it worked hard to win. And thousands of people responded. They were not the majority but if the voice of the people is the voice of God, then we need to acknowledge their voices too.

TOP election banner
In our democratic first past the post system the thousands who voted for TOP will have no voice within their assembly. That was very clear in Thursday's inauguration of the 9th THA, when the president declared the office of Minority Leader vacant, meaning that there would also be no opposition councillor.

Interestingly, in a proportional representation system the composition of the assembly would have been very different and TOP and those who supported the party would be heard in the assembly.

I would guess that many people who wanted to vote for TOP stayed away for fear of victimisation. You might recall the chief secretary telling people that they won't be "forgiven" if they didn't vote for the PNM. That intimidatory message warned of discrimination and victimization from the THA which today seems like a very real possibility.
Orville London - Monday night
And then there was the overt racism by Hilton Sandy, a man who is still a part of the decision making team at the THA although in a clever damage control move the PNM relieved him of his position as Deputy Chief Secretary. Still, I shudder to think what would happen to some businesspeople of the "wrong ethnicity" seeking to move to Tobago.

There were some significant factors at play that caused the PNM victory:

  • A too strong People's Partnership presence, led by the leader of the United National Congress (UNC)
  • Too much reliance by TOP on mass meetings and mass advertising in the national media
  • Failure of TOP to focus clearly the message and deliver the message(s) to the voter
  • TOP's failure to acknowledge the unique Tobago culture in developing its campaign
  • Too little contact by TOP candidates and workers with voters on a one-on-one basis
  • TOP's failure to get the vote out on election day; it lacked dedicated and trained staff and other resources
  • A Tojan Horse issue, with PNM people wearing TOP jerseys at meetings; on election night they were in red waving the PNM flag
So where do we go from here?

The people of Tobago still have a strong voice in the governance of Tobago and Trinidad and Tobago. MPs Delmon Baker, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin and Senator Christlyn Moore represent Tobago in the national parliament and in cabinet

They are members of TOP and they are an integral part of the People's Partnership coalition. The MPs and senator will keep the TOP flag flying and they will continue to represent the interests of Tobago, not just those who voted for TOP.
Ashworth Jack has choices. He has been politically wounded and might no longer have the moral authority to lead the TOP having lost the four seats that TOP held in the 8th THA. So the proper move for him now is to heed the message, take responsibility, resign and hand the leadership to Baker.

Why Baker? We have two other Tobago representatives - Senator Moore, who is the Justice Minister and Alleyne-Toppin, Minister in the Ministry of the People and Social Development.

Several reasons put Baker as the number one pick, the most important is that he is the Minister for Tobago Development with his ministry based in Tobago. The two others work from Trinidad. In addition, Alleyne-Toppin carries some unsavory baggage and Moore will have her hands full dealing with legal issues in Trinidad and won't be able to focus effectively on Tobago.
Dr Delmon Baker
Tobago Development Minister

Of the three Baker is the person best positioned to represent Tobago at the party level and in Parliament. And with a seat at the cabinet table he can influence policy on Tobago. Baker also represents youth since he is in his 30s, young and politically astute.

He is the bright light that will not only show TOP the way but also make it grow and develop as the force it needs to be in order to retain the two Tobago seats in 2015. And although TOP won't be sitting in the THA, Baker, with a well planned Tobago strategy, would guarantee that Tobago continues to stand side by side at the central government level even if the THA prefers to function on the basis of political patronage and divisiveness.

For the now the PNM has promised fairness and equality. "We have to understand that from tonight...all the people must work together for the benefit of Tobago," London told Tobagonians on Monday night. 

If that turns out to be true and TOP hands Baker the leadership, then we can expect to see a bright and productive future ahead for Tobago and for Trinidad and Tobago.

Jai Parasram

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai