Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ganges meets the Nile?

Trinidad and Tobago is on a precipice. It's not a scare tactic or attempted hyperbole. The truth of the matter is that, for the better part of the last six years, T&T has experienced unprecedented times, with respect to crime, the economy and government. It has also showed up our citizens as willing pawns in a political game.

A deeper understanding of the motivation of people's support for politicians in T&T is needed. There seems to be an almost lamb to the slaughter approach when election time comes around and people are asked to support a particular political party. Many times, support for any given party is usually based on hereditary voting patterns or ethnic voting patterns. Very rarely do people take issues and debates into account and make a conscientious decision on Election Day as to which party will be fortunate enough to receive their support.

It is this wonton waste of democratic rights that has fuelled the arrogance of our political dinosaurs since Independence in 1962. Never has T&T has a Prime Minister who has genuinely had the people's interests at heart. On at least three occasions (1986, 1995 and 2001/2), the country had been false started into believing that change would bring about the yearning for a clean political scene. A scene devoid of the petty bitterness that has led to the collapse of governments, resignations of Ministers and MPs and years of feuding between rival politicians, all claiming to be on the side of the people.

Today, following the victory of the People's National Movement (PNM) in the 2002 polls, Trinidad and Tobago stands at the mercy of murderers, kidnappers and big business. Yet, we are constantly being told that the crime rate is really not that bad, kidnappings are on the decrease and smelter plants are good for your health. The (and to an extent, correct) belief that 1962 politics can swim with a 2007 population is as sad as it is scary.

The Opposition is in disarray. The UNC, fractured by a clique of self serving executive members. The spin-off, Congress of the People, started promisingly, but seems to have been losing most of its steam from its heyday, just 6 months ago when it drew a crowd of 15,000 to its launching and had polls citing 40% national support. That support has now dwindled to less than 9%, though its leader remains the most popular choice for Prime Minister of the Republic.

Where do we go from here? If we are to believe the latest polls, one of which has proven quite reliable (NACTA), then the PNM should handily win the next election, possibly with a constitional majority. Meanwhile, the old fox himself, Basdeo Panday, never one to miss an opportunity for division, has reclaimed the reins of the UNC and almost laughingly, in a Ghandi-like attempt, has called for a reunification of the Opposition forces. This, less than one year since he launched a calculated bid to rid the UNC of his then annointed successor, Winston Dookeran. Panday has paralleled Dookeran's refusal to respond to his call to a covert attempt at (Dookeran's) supporting the PNM's return to power. What's more is that his supporters have taken the bait and have begun to characterise Dookeran as a traitor (to what or whom is still unclear), perhaps not willing to delve further into an analysis of why Panday has had such stormy relations with so many of his previous comrades.

Quite simply, Panday's call for unity is hollow. Unity for the sake of removing the PNM is not what this country requires. This country needs unity for the sake of the country. Unity in the opposition forces was a reality a mere 12 months ago. Given his track record, there must be a genuine concern about whether or not Panday can truly lead a united front into a sustainable government.

Unity must be organic and honest, not pragmatic and selfish. There comes a time when one must move away from doing what is pragmatic and realise that the country needs to wake up and do what is right. Unity is right, but political unity does not equate to national unity. Panday and his cohorts can spout as much as they want but his track record is there for all to see, from NAR 86, to NAR 95 to Ramesh et al in 2000, Crowne Plaza in 2001 and most recently, Dookeran in 2006.It is fools gold to believe that Panday, at 72 will change his ways. He is a demagogue to his supporters and nothing more.

The right thing to do is for people to call the government to account. To not sit in business meetings or Chamber meetings and allow the Prime Minister to run riot while you complain about crime and the effect of wonton spending. Imagine a PM admonishes the business community on their own turf, and you can still hear a pin drop in the room.

It is time that people take responsibility for their actions. If you choose to waste your vote over representatives who do nothing for you, that is, fortunately, your democratic right. However, when things continue to go down the abyss that they are, those same people must understand that they contributed to the problem, and by then, it may have been too late to do anything about it.

Notice that, unlike others, I did not say that they should not complain. They are, after all entitled to do so. However, it is a testament to the mindset of many, that they vote for these same representatives, get the same results, proceed to complain, but do nothing substantive to change the status quo when elections are held.

Humans have the ability to learn from mistakes, but like a brainwashed bunch, there seems to be very little dynamism when it comes to the selection of representatives when elections are held and it is an indictment that our politicians fail to foster an educated electorate.

An electorate that should understand that Government is not a prize to be won but a serious responsibility to be entrusted with.

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