An election like no other


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Category: Trinidad Politics 09 May 10

A five-million-dollar “hit” out on Kamla Persad-Bissessar; accusations of media bias against the PNM by Patrick Manning; Dr Rowley with a tightly-zipped mouth at a PNM political meeting, giving rise to speculation that he has too much dirt to reveal. Retired High Court judge, Herbert Volney, obliquely negotiating to contest a seat into Parliament while he sat on a bench; The rejection of the Pandays from the new UNC/COP Alliance; the ejected Obama strategists back in town. It makes for great television, radio and headlines. Each election is unique in this miniscule town, a dot on the world map, made up of compressed continents, a test bed for the interaction of races in a new world. The result in this tiny country is always electrifying.

The NAR euphoria of 1986, when the PNM won only three of 36 seats, signalling a ANR Robinson “rainbow party” never before seen in this demographically-split country, was an unforgettable moment in our political history; the 18/18 deadlock, in 2001, another, and now this. The spectacle of this electoral carnival is irresistible. The number of registered voters has soared; political meetings nationwide are overflowing with spectators; roads are being paved; grants given to the elderly (a laughable symptom of election fever, given its obnoxious quick fix signals, but also another opportunity to get donations/votes for the party) and, as always, the staggering power of business interests are fuelling the elaborate show of this drama and comedy for the benefit of the people. I agree with Winston Dookeran. This is an election like no other, for several reasons.

Nagging disquiet

The first nagging disquiet came when I asked him what he felt about the leader of the party he supported. He said she needed to be “protected.” An image of Kamla Persad-Bissessar, surrounded by bodyguards, sprung into mind. This tied up with reports of “scuffles.” The “hit” news is no surprise. The unease took on momentum after senior CNC3 news anchor and journalist, Shelly Dass-Clark, scored interviews with COP leader Winston Dookeran, Esther Le Gendre, MP for Tunapuna and Minister of Education, and Basdeo Panday on the flagship CNC3 current affairs programme “Decision 2010 with Shelly Dass.” It was the idea of a tech-savvy, bright young woman in the CNC3 marketing department to get viewers to text in their comments as they watched Ms Dass grill our election kings and queens.

This enabled a level or participation that encouraged democracy, and mirrored the voice of the people in a way I have never seen in all my years of working as a journalist in this country. “Call-in” programmes, even in the glut of electronic media, have their limitations, and can take a maximum of ten, maybe 20, calls in an hour. The people who comment on local news articles on-line still remain within a closed enclave of the Internet. But when social media, text messages, and television meet, the result is monumental, as each feeds the other. When Dass interviewed Le Gendre, Dookeran and Panday, our Facebook pages were flooded with comments. The “commentators” are the tech generation to whom, I-pods, Internet, text messaging, and social media, like Facebook, Twitter and blogs, are second skins. They are eligible to vote. They represent various socio-economic demographics of this country.

Promises for “change”

So, are we missing the point entirely? Promises for “change” or more of the same cannot be passed off as “issues.” All promises will do is tweak governance. Our system is not ideology-based. In a globalised economy we have even less leverage. The only factor that can bring about real change is a commitment to create systems to ensure greater government transparency. Have we forgotten so quickly? Dr Keith Rowley is to the PNM what Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj was to the UNC government. Each started an unstoppable topple from within. In 2009, we fell to 79 in the world ranking, below many of our Caricom neighbours. Can it happen again? That’s the question we should be asking.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur