Our cards are in your hands


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 28 Jan 01

Only the “clear stream of reason” can reverse the threat of turmoil in this country. It must be done before it is beyond repair, because, in front of our disbelieving, helpless eyes, it is sinking into the quicksand.


You, the players of this game, hold in your hands every card dear to us, our freedom and democracy, and a social climate necessary for our very survival and growth.


We recognise that as politicians and statesmen, you are trained to fight to win. That it is easy to get so absorbed in the game that you forget that you might be staking cards that have been entrusted to you by us, the people, who have chosen you to lead us in your various capacities.


You hold the cards of our freedom, our democracy, our safety, our dignity, our future - everything dear to us - in your hands. We implore you not to get so caught up in the game, not to play so recklessly, that in winning, you tear out the very roots of our tiny young country, and plunge all of us into the widening abyss.


We can’t help but look fearfully at our region, at the world, mussed up with wars that had their genesis in situations very similar to this one.

Examine your cards.

·        Bill Chaitan and Winston Peters file their papers for the December election while holding dual citizenship. Their papers are not rejected by the EBC.

·        There are allegations of vote padding in certain constituencies by the PNM. The issue is still under investigation.

·        The UNC won 19 out of 36 seats on December 11.

·        On the same night, Patrick Manning says in what amounts to an admission of defeat, “the people have spoken and the voice of people is the voice of God.” But Ken Valley, Deputy Political Leader says: “We, the PNM will form the government.”

·        The President swears in Basdeo Panday, leader of the party that has won the most seats, as Prime Minister.

·        The President swears in 15 ministers, but declines to swear in seven others on the grounds that they were defeated in the general election.

·        The President, in an address to the nation, brings dark portents of a “creeping dictatorship” embodied in the Prime Minister’s request to swear in seven losing candidates as senators. He is sure of the support of British constitutional luminary Prof Bradley and says he is open to substantiated correction.

·His Excellency is corrected, overwhelmingly, by Prof Bradley, Caricom, Constitutional experts, the Law Association, attorneys and commentators. Dana Seetahal, Lloyd Best, James Millette among others, pronounce the President’s position illegal and unconstitutional.

·The President has not budged.

·        Commentator Selwyn Cudjoe calls the President a national hero, and condemns the mild response of PNM leadership to the Gypsy and Chaitan fracas. Another political pollster ruminates, unscientifically, if the UNC “really won the election.”

·        The Leader of the Opposition and his deputy declare they will start holding public meetings on the election 2000.

·        The Prime Minister makes a statement to the Parliament, speaking of a conspiracy by interests opposed to the Government of “colluding to seize power, some by violent means.”

·Manning warns that the Prime Minister is paving the way for a state of emergency.


These, gentlemen, are your cards. If either of you has an outright victory, the rest of us lose. You may not like these options, but they are in the best interests of the people who raised you to power.


Firstly, the President, as a statesman and an astute politician, sees it as part of his responsibility to save his country from a “creeping dictatorship.” This concern has to be taken at face value. We must remember that the President was willing, with a gun in his mouth, to die for his country in 1990, that he is indeed a statesman.


I believe he knows what’s at stake, that is, the stability of this country. I believe he will once again, put country before self and do the right thing.


Secondly, the legal wrangles in the aftermath of this election were an uncanny echo of the American elections. However, the one thing the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Manning, would do well to learn from the American elections is that vexatious agitation belongs to the courts before the swearing in.


Once a leader is sworn in, good sportsmanship is called for. Mr Manning has a vital place in our politics, and a graceful defeat can only add to that. Mr Manning, I believe, is the quintessential gentleman and his statement that “the voice of people is the voice of God” was spontaneous and gracious. I believe he will put the country before politics, as he has done before.

Thirdly, Mr Panday has on his side, political victory, legal victory, and power. He has demonstrated thus far, his humility and good manners in his dealings with the President (which some commentators have misinterpreted as “inferiority,” believing as they do, that arrogance is a sign of superiority). The Prime Minister can afford to compromise. He has the chance to demonstrate his statesmanship by reducing the number of senators he wants sworn in to four and bring an end to these troubled times.


Gentlemen, we trust you all to be statesmen, to do the right thing. There is no alternative. We believe you will play in good faith, putting country before self, and act with vision rather than self-interest.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur