Monday, July 29, 2013

Democracy is the Worst....

'Democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all others'- Winston Churchill

The Chaguanas West bye election voting is winding down now. And the result is far from certain. What seems to be the only certain thing is that, come tomorrow, the new Member of Parliament will be filling a vacancy created by the forced resignation of Jack Warner on allegations of corruption.

What makes this election most remarkable is the unique groundswell of support for Mr. Warner, seeking reelection under the banner of his newly formed Independent Liberal Party. This seat is the strongest of all 41 constituencies. Mr. Warner won with 93% of the vote under a United National Congress ticket. The seat has been a consistent stronghold for the UNC, falling only to the People's National Movement in the boycotted 1971 General Election. This places this bye election into context. Polling in the lead up to the election has shown a lead for Mr. Warner from anywhere between 5% to 20%. A victory for Mr. Warner will signal a significant shift in the pattern of voting for this constituency and perhaps a reexamination of campaigning for Trinidad and Tobago.

A victory for Warner, however, should lead to introspection of our politics, our electorate an our representation. There can be no question that Mr. Warner has been an excellent representative for his constituency. One can argue that personal wealth and the resources of the state ably assisted him as a senior cabinet minister. However, this argument can also hold for many others who are viewed as less effective representatives and who are certainly not held in the cultish status as Warner.

There can also be no question that Mr. Warner has serious allegations to answer. He is the subject of an investigation by the American Internal Revenue Service (IRS). His fitness to hold office has been questioned from the day he was appointed a senior government minister following the elections of May 2010. There is no doubt that under different circumstances, Mr. Warner would have been forced to resign and not stand again for office. However, the lack of adequate constitutional reform has allowed Mr. Warner to seek a revalidation from the electorate itself. And this revalidation exercise may yet prove the undoing of a government which has not settled into governing, and which has been managing crisis after crisis.

A loss for the UNC will be a second consecutive blow to the People's Partnership Government, coming on the heels of a 12-0 blowout of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) by the PNM in the January 2013 House of Assembly election. It will be a blow to the Prime Minister directly, as a repudiation of her government's policies and the UNC candidate, Kadijah Ameen. Ir will be a blow to the Congress of the People which has called on many occasions for the head of Mr. Warner. It will successfully legitimise Mr. Warner as a serious political player with the potential to direct the outcome of a General Election.

But what of a success? What does it say about the electorate which will ignore the allegations dogging Mr. Warner and vote instead for the Dr. Jekyll version of effective representation? The fact is that one goes with the other. The commendable aspects of Mr. Warner is indeed betrayed by the less scrupulous ones. And there must be a great concern that our electorate is not discerning enough to examine the whole candidate and come to a conclusion that there is too much doubt to reelect Warner.

A win for the UNC will be phyrric. Nothing short of a massive landslide will be acceptable. A win by a small margin will indicate serious problems for the major party in the coalition. A win will also have Ms. Kadijah Ameen sworn in as the new MP for Chaguanas West. Ms. Ameen has not impressed with her campaign. The UNC has not allowed a mature discourse of the issues, as would be expected for a party in government. Being handed the safest seat in the country will propel Ms. Ameen to the public limelight but little else. Her credentials for serving as an MP has not been made clear.

As for the other candidates in the race, there seems little doubt that they will handily lose their deposits. This race is between two horses, neither of whom will inspire a greater confidence in the democratic process in Trinidad and Tobago. The time has come for serious and major constitutional reform on elections, recalls and financing. It is the one saving grace the the Congress of the People may have, lest they be condemned to forever being cannibalised by the UNC. Indeed, many will argue that there is already no difference between the UNC and the COP.

Democracy must be respected. But it must also be regulated if it is to remain credible. Today may yet be the day when an individual wins and democracy loses.

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