Votes crack country open


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 16 Dec 01

The night of December 10 was a moment of truth. The picong, play-acting and posturing was over and there was no way for either of the leaders to gloss over the results. Eighteen/Eighteen can only mean Eighteen/Eighteen. There is no other way of putting it. No one was the outright victor.


Looking at the expressions of expectation on the faces of the crowds at Balisier House and Rienzi Complex, I realised how desperate our people are to believe that someone, ‘up there’ will help them get water, or books, a job, or pension.


I could almost see them thinking, “will this mean I won’t get a month’s salary before Christmas?” or “I really wanted those thousand dollars for my sons secondary schooling.” or  “will I be victimised if the other side gets into power?”


I realised, as they nodded mindlessly at their leaders, Africans in one camp, Indians at the other, how un-empowered, how brainwashed, and as a result, how utterly dependent supporters are on their political parties.


Hadn’t they voted for the politician of their own race? Hadn’t they done what they were told?  They waited, bewildered in their leaders’ camps, to be told what to think.


I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I heard the leaders of the UNC and PNM tell their captive audience, to do the right thing. “We have a good chance of forming the Government, but if this is to happen we have to embrace the other large tribe, and people who are not in our camp. If I am to be Prime Minister, we must invite all races and creeds into the fold. Be calm. Go home.”


The sun rose to the faces of two men, who, while they were larger than life while they campaigned, looked their age, tired. You could clearly see a very human struggle in them. Ambition wrestled with responsibility. They had a debt to the people who brought them this far. But the office they seek is one that requires the support of the majority of the country.


As it stands, neither of them have that. The people’s votes cracked the country open like a giant cutlass on a watermelon, in three. Those who support them, those who support the other side, and the smaller piece, those who support neither (at least 30 percent).


Both major parties recognised that a government of national unity, a shared prime ministership, a joint Cabinet would break the deadlock. But again, note that struggle, “Not if I’m not Prime Minister,” or “I can’t be bought.”


There is talk of changing the constitution, of proportional representation, but changing the constitution requires a two-third majority, and we don’t have that.


Others are calling the national unity coalition option a charade, a cynical political option for both leaders to gain power at any cost.


The ideals behind a government of national unity, sharing power making “partisan agendas secondary to the national interest” as Mr Panday put it, are commendable.


But in Trinidad and Tobago’s context can this concept of national unity work between parties that have been calling one another nasty names such as corrupt and impotent?


It is highly unlikely the coalition will work. Our experience of governments based on expediency rather than the will of the majority of people, has demonstrated repeatedly how fragile coalitions are and will, in the long run, only serve only to erode faith in the democratic process.


When the Prime Minister dissolved the Parliament the last time, the country was run by a Prime Minister, (Basdeo Panday) an AG (Kamla Persad-Bissesser) and very capable public servants.


My own suggestion is the following scenario:

The President should immediately appoint a Prime Minister to take over the country whose government will fall within days because it will not have a majority in the lower house.

Parliament will be dissolved for a new election. Once again, the country will be run by a caretaker Prime Minister and Attorney General.

The President should then use moral suasion to ensure the caretaker Prime Minister appoints a member of the Opposition as Attorney General to keep the balance.

Before the new election is held, the President should “request” the Prime Minister (again, using moral suasion) to set up two bi-partisan commissions of inquiry to report within 30 days. One, into corruption, to present facts (not speculation or opinion) including suggestions on how to prevent corruption in public office. And the other into the workings of the Elections and Boundaries Commission.


Campaigning should commence once the results of these inquiries are made public. Both parties have their traditional voters who will support them come hell or high water. It is hoped that by dealing with issues essential to the well-being of the country, the 30 per cent of the population who did not vote will come out to vote giving one of the parties a majority. To do this both parties must address issues including rising crime, the diseased state of our health service, the effect of the drop in oil price from the budgeted $22.00 to $16.50 on our economy, the education system, and unemployment.


It is likely that the majority will be small, but workable. Small majorities will go some way to decreasing the power of the ‘maximum leader’, as one economist put it and lead to more sharing of power as each MP becomes more necessary.


The mature solution is to educate our population and politicians so ultimately, we vote not for a puppet or a leader of a party, (ie along racial lines), but a candidate whom we are convinced will represent our interests honestly, efficiently, effectively, and will be accountable to us.


The ideal is to keep people, rather than leaders, or race, central to the democratic process.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur