Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Commentary: Everybody won but the people lost in Monday's election

T&T's raibow nation - "Here ev'ry creed and race find an equal place" - National Anthem
I've been hearing a lot about who won and who lost last Monday's Local Government Election and I've been thinking about what really happened. The truth is I don't like what happened.

It has nothing to do with which party won how many seats. It's clear that the People's National Movement (PNM) won the most corporations and the highest percentage of the popular vote. It is also clear that Jack Warner's Independent Liberal Party (ILP) created a political space for itself.

Nobody can dispute those facts but that's not what I am thinking about today.

I am looking at the how Monday's election changed the political map and how we have regressed to the 1980s when tribalism defined our political culture in a "we and dem" rivalry that engineered a divisive style of politics based mainly on ethnicity but also on blind loyalty. 

Many people disagree with that and I respect their views but the voting pattern and the behaviour during the campaign did not have the kind of constructive maturity I expected in this election.

Kamla and the People's Partnership changed the political culture in 2010 with the successful experiment in a new style of participatory democracy. The coalition of interests that she and her colleagues formed brought all the opposition groups under the umbrella of the People's Partnership for a common cause. The vision of that political group extended way beyond the narrow walls of race and party loyalties.

People who had never voted felt comfortable. The youth stained their fingers for the PP and those whom COP had courted also felt the time had come to redefine our politics. In 2010 we the people made a quantum leap forward and the hope was that we would continue to build on it.

As a matter of interest the same thing did not happen on the PNM side. The party kept its traditional base and although it lost 14 of the 26 seats it held in the previous parliament it would have won the election had it not been for the scheming by Keith Rowley, who campaigned against his party and asked its members not to vote for what he called the most corrupt regime ever.

And before you shout me down, please take a look at the figures in 2010.

In 2010 the PNM lost the election by just over 9,000 votes, which means that in our flawed first-past-the-post system, the PNM could have won 21 seats with fewer than 300,000 votes and the PP, with more than 430,000 votes, would have lost.

What happened on Monday was that the United National Congress (UNC) got pushed back into its ethnic heartland and the PNM kept its traditional base with Chaguanas remaining as a kind of reminder of the hope that existed for a united Trinidad and Tobago.

The Tobago election in January and the PNM's deliberate use of race with the infamous 'Calcutta Ship' intervention established the clear battle lines that became political borders on Monday.

So who won and who lost?

The PNM won both by keeping its base and by winning the highest number of votes and seats. The UNC won by also keeping its base but the PP lost because it shared with its partners, the Congress of the People and NJAC. Jack and the ILP also won because the ILP achieved two fundamental things: it pushed back the UNC to its heartland as an Indian party and it won more than 100,000 votes.

If there are losers, I would suggest they are the people of Trinidad and Tobago because they are now in the old tribal space that blurs the picture of a progressive state based on equality, freedom and justice without fear or favour. All the ghosts of patronage, cronyism, nepotism, corruption and selfish ambition are waiting to rise. And that means the people lose.

So where do we go from here? 

I would suggest we return to the Fyzabad Declaration that put country first. Here is what it stated in article 4:

"The Partners believe that the opportunity exists for the people of Trinidad and Tobago to vote for a people-oriented and participatory Government committed to social justice and implemented by an effective, results-oriented team whose national objective is to put into practice Collaborative Leadership to achieve good Governance."
The leaders of the PP at the signing of the Fyzabad Accord in April 2010
There were people on the various teams who disagreed on many things but they felt a common obligation to work together and collectively for a better Trinidad and Tobago.

When Kamla realigned her cabinet in September, shortly after losing the Chaguanas byelection to Jack, this is what she said:

"Let the process of collaboration replace that of confrontation..Let us sit and eat at the same table even as we recognise the divergent views of each other...

"If I had my will, I would form a national government comprised of all groups...Let history judge me as being a leader who loved you more than she did pursuit of office. This is my solemn oath to you." She even included the names of Rowley and Jack. 

That spirit of compromise for the national good seems to have disappeared or perhaps, for now at least, it remains dormant.

Political allegiances or political polarisation must not be to the detriment of the country and its people. One can be as bad as the other, depending on the circumstances. The people understood that and endorsed the People's Partnership in 2010. 

Today, with a retreat to political comfort zones and the presence of a third force in the ILP we are looking at a political environment similar to the 2007 election when both COP and the UNC had the same constructive ideas but their bickering caused the PNM to win an election that it really lost if you based it on popular support.

2015 is closer than we think. The COP has lost its credibility and support. It seems that it never prepared itself for the realities of a post-Dookeran world one year after the PP captured power. 

Revisiting the Fyzabad Accord will not include Dookeran, one of the principal architects of the Partnership. Today, COP needs to examine why it has lost so much support, which has either gone back to the PNM or has migrated to the ILP.
 The ILP is commanding a significant share of the UNC base as well and the PNM, as always, is the beneficiary of all this.

Kamla needs to step back and pay attention to what is really happening, see the bog picture and show the leadership she displayed in 2010. She is the only one who can.

The distribution of the population condemns the UNC base to live in opposition if the UNC appeals only to that base. The party, therefore, has to find a formula - and do it quickly - to attract voters who are not of its tribe and who feel comfortable in the UNC. Alternatively she must strengthen and widen the PP in keepeing with her declaration in September for all to dine "at the same table".

For now there is a large constituency that is searching for a political home and the People's Partnership can provide it if it returns to its founding princples and demonstrate that it is indeed strong and united. 

COP still has relevance, although it is a poor shadow of itself due to internal strife and its failure to demonstrate the maturity and commanding presence that it had under the leadership of Winston Dookeran. NJAC represents a section of the community that had always been deprived of a vioice and the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) remains a standard bearer for Tobago, despite its humiliating loss in January. 

And no one should discard the ILP as irrelevant; politicians should not discard the voices of 102,000 citizens. 

The PP under Kamla's leadership has demonstrated that a mixed coalition can be highly successful because it represents the widest cross section of national and community interests without a maximum leader. 

And she has shown that she knows and understands that dialogue and compromise are the key ingredients in the recipe for unity and understanding in a society that is as diverse as ours. Everyone in her team may not agree with this but she is the leader. And she has shown that she knows how to lead.

Jai Parasram - 28 October 2013

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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