I write birds twitter somewhere close; monsoon rains darken our tropical
light to a dove gray ringed by clear white light. The thundershower
crescendos into a roar, hammering at rooftops, pavements, overflowing from
drains and rivers, twisting branches, is punctuated by rolls of thunder,
fades, stops, drips down crevices of galvanize, settles deep into the
Falling as it is, in the aftermath of an election dimmed with the menace
of racial polarisation, terrorism and corruption, washing away posters and
pamphlets, the debris of the power hungry from the Aranguez Savannah,
Woodford Square, from walls and electricity poles, one can’t help but
think of the downpour as a divine symbol of renewal and cleansing.
Or, it could be a shower of blessings on a country that looks on
astonished once again at itself — a people who themselves hadn’t
realised the extent of their own maturity and tolerance, even as they
stood on the brink, on the nail-biting race in which each vote in the
marginals meant the difference between being the tribe in power and being
out in the cold.
This election was like every other in this small democratic twin-island
state; extraordinarily peaceful given its ethnic mix in roughly equal
proportions of Indian and African Trinidadians.
Once again, on October 8, despite the unalloyed victorious shouts in
Balisier house, and the stunned disbelieving silence of people walking
away from Rienzi Complex, the trucks filled with supporters carrying flags
whipping in the breeze into Port-of- Spain, and the retreat of others into
the darkness of central Trinidad, there was no violence. Not one incident.
The newly-elected Prime Minister said now that the election was over, we
should rid ourselves of animosity and the healing should start. The
Opposition leader, despite his bravado of claiming at worst 18/18 and a
heavy-hearted reference to “constitutional reform,” remembered his
duty first and foremost as a Trinidadian. “Tomorrow we will all sit
peacefully side by side, shoulder to shoulder in the same taxis and maxi
The majority spoke or remained silent. The ones who could make the
difference in the marginals, did. They sent messages — that
accountability is necessary; corruption is unacceptable; people will not
be brushed off with quips or diverted with promises; arrogance is noted.
That they may be helpless and out of the loop in the everyday running of
the country, but they still wield the enormous power to dethrone.
Despite this, perhaps because of this, no one could fail to be aware of
the pathos of the Silver Fox taking his final bow on the stage at Rienzi
His epilogue was unconvincing, clearly even to himself. It was as if this
defeat had swiftly, in one final, fatal stroke, taken the shine out of the
silver, the agility out of the fox.
The 280,000 or so people voted for him mostly out of love – because,
after all, didn’t he give them a place in the sun, and then throw it all
away as his power-parched tribe drank greedily from the national coffers?
And now weren’t they horribly let down? Didn’t his single-minded
pursuit of a high profile rainbow cabinet lead to the neglect of his core
supporters — the ones still clambering out of rural poverty, requiring
books and medicines, the cane cutters with burnt and calloused skin?
These people would never forget Basdeo Panday unleashed his rapier
personality, his flambeau which demanded a formerly invisible group be
seen, onto the nation; these people who had lived more as spectators of a
sub culture, than mainstream participators for over 35 years of PNM rule.
But no one judged him harsher at that instant than he did himself. We were
witnessing a singularly intimate moment in Panday’s life — that of his
own reckoning — his place in history, the struggle, flare of victory,
and finally his fatal stumbling into the minefields of power, corruption,
arrogance, the failure to manage detractors. Standing there, the man who
only two days before was likening himself to Mahatma Gandhi, now fended
off the blows of defeat with his dwindled band of candidates behind him.
(How failure scatters supporters, what a faithless business politics is,
brimming with betrayal, ruthlessness, self interest).
Anybody watching him that night (except his enemies) could not fail to be
moved at the suddenly vulnerable set of his shoulders, as if the weight of
40 years was pressing upon him; at the determined downward slant of his
head, which did not, perhaps could not, look at the devastated faces
around him, at the relief he sought by walking quickly, his arm in his
wife’s, to the sanctuary of a closed office. I’m sure there are
lessons to be learned there.
Meanwhile, there is rain, renewal and despite the fear of displacement
felt by UNC supporters, there is the hope of being pulled into the centre,
of being included, of becoming not sub-culture but part of this mainstream
of all of humanity represented in these small islands. There is healing of
a nation that has been battered by three successive elections in as many
And finally, there is trust, that this time round, our new Government will
use not cosmetics, but real benchmarks of a sound health and education
sector to make us all the people we can be.