Monday, May 31, 2010

Talkin' bout a Revolution

For the last 40 years or more uprisings in Trinidad and Tobago come around every 20 years. On the last two occasions, in 1970 and 1990, the country was faced with violence and bloodshed as the seat of power was attempted to be wrested from democratically elected governments. Both times were as a result of people or interest groups believing that the government of the day was acting outside of the nation's best interest.

In 2010, again, 20 years after the Jamaat attempted coup of 1990, the aura of the nation was again ripe for revolution. With widespread allegations of corruption, crime and fiscal mismanagement coupled with a ruling party that controlled 26 of 41 seats, despite having a mandate from only 45% of the population in the last election, there was an air of frustration and growing discontent among citizens.

However, unlike previous years, in 2010, a revolution of democracy occurred. Gifted a General Election by the incumbent Prime Minister, 30 months before it was due, the opposition received widespread support and ousted Patrick Manning to install Kamla Persad Bissessar as the country's first female Prime Minister. Whether or not that bears any significance in the 21st century is debatable. What is remarkable about the victory is the fact that the incumbent only lost about 15,000 votes overall, a decrease of about 5% from the last election while the combined opposition was able to motivate an additional 80,000 people, an additional 23%, to cast their ballots in their favor. Even more so is the fact that almost every single new voter would have voted for the coalition.

And this is where the revolution begins to take shape. New voters would have been the apathetic voters of the last election and the generally indifferent youth constituency. The fact that these two groups, and more so, remarkably, from all accounts, the youth turned out in such force for what was effectively a rescue operation for this country shows that, regardless of the pronouncements of the political pundits, once given 1. A viable alternative and 2. A wildly unpopular incumbent, people can be mobilised to vote. And vote they did, with over 722,000 ballots cast (70%) in the biggest turnout since independence and the largest win for any party over the PNM since 1986; a 17 seat advantage with a special majority and a 20% victory in the popular vote.

Former Prime Minister Panday probably put it best when he said we would have to wait to see if this new government is indeed change or exchange. However, from the early signs, utterances and appointments, there seems to be a genuine desire to move away from the politics of the last 8 years, and indeed from the last 40 odd years of totalitarian rule by whichever person who holds the office of Prime Minister.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar is perhaps one of the luckiest politicians in the world and I mean that in the best way possible. After Panday called the internal election of the UNC she amazingly (by margin, not necessarily result) emerged a 10:1 victor, and one month later acquired enough support to become this country's first substantive female opposition leader (previously being appointed by Panday to serve in the post).

In addition, she was facilitated generously by the architect of the coalition, Congress of the People leader and now Minister of Finance, Winston Dookeran, in the run up to the May 24 polls. Throwing his and his party's support, unequivocally behind her as the candidate and giving up potential seats in Diego Martin NE, St Ann's East, Port of Spain North, La Horquetta/Talparo and Toco/Sangre Grande (to the UNC), Pointe a Pierre (MSJ) and Point Fortin (NJAC), in exchange for 1 UNC safe seat (St. Augustine), Mr. Dookeran again demonstrated his party's philosophy of country first.

The result of all this was Mrs. Persad-Bissessar leading a coalition into a General Election where she would emerge as Prime Minister with a massive majority for the coalition and a simple majority (21 seats) for her party by itself. It also made her the shortest served Leader of the Opposition in the history of Trinidad and Tobago, serving exactly, and merely 3 months. Surely this would not have been what the Pandays, Rameshes and Ramnaths would have anticipated had they been advised by their personal prophets or prophetesses that Kamla would last only 3 months as Opposition Leader!

In the space of less than a year, the two most experienced members of Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago and two fomer Prime Ministers have been humbled, one completely out of office. The armor of the old guard of politicians in this country is now perhaps destroyed beyond recovery. Race was the least influential in the minds of voters as it has ever been. A more educated and enlightened population that demanded that issues be addressed and unsuccessfully called for a debate between the candidates voted primarily on just that. Issues.

This isn't to say that we've made it. Hardly so. But it is a significant step in the right direction. Kamla has many to thank, but none more so than the youth. It was this group that ensured her victory. It is now her responsibility, aided by her government to execute the mandate so overwhelmingly entrusted in her. It is OUR responsibility, as citizens and as youth to ensure that that mandate is executed without the arrogance and lack of accountability and transparency of the previous administrations.

It is our duty in the next election to ensure that we get our elusive debate. It is our duty to ensure that they have kept their promises on constitutional reform and fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency. Because in the same way we revolted against the incumbent in 2010 in the most significant demonstration of democracy, we must, without fear, be prepared to do the same in 2015 (or earlier) if this government fails to heed the lessons of their past.

Never again must we allow governments to get free rides on the basis of race or handouts. Never again must we tolerate the arrogance and wastefulness of politicians past. Never again must we facilitate maximum leaders in our Government. Never Again.

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