from St Lucia
addition to consultation on serious national issues, the PNM
leader and Prime Minister could seek to make government operations
far more transparent.
the over-confident smugness, even arrogance, of St Lucias
incumbent Prime Minister Kenny Anthony as he approached the
electorate last week, there is little similarity between the
politics of that country and the race-based entrenched political
culture of T&T.
But so marked is the self-assuredness between Kenny Anthony
and Patrick Manning that it cannot be missed: the PNM political
leader is not merely seeking a return to office but has mandated
his party, according to John Donaldson, to achieve a clear
constitutional majority, 32 seats, to be able to unilaterally
change the Constitution.
Consider that this publicly-stated objective comes in an environment
in which there has been widespread condemnation of the notion
put forward by Prime Minister Manning of an executive president
with untrammelled power to get a full appreciation of the
self-assurance/arrogance, take your choice of description,
of the Manning pitch for a special majority.
That attitude too is probably indicative of the contempt in
which Manning holds the opposition parties. In this regard
there is some legitimacy, given the self-inflicted paralysis
and confusion in the UNC and COP, the former more so than
As an aside, the two parties would have to be held responsible
if the PNM and Mr Manning were to receive the majority required
to change the Constitution without concern for how the opposition
party/parties were to vote in the Parliament.
But returning to the comparison of the upset victory of the
82-year-old John Compton and his United Workers Party over
the incumbent Kenny Anthony and his St Lucia Labour Party
and possible political outcomes here, the voting behaviour
of the Trinidad electorate is so steeped in racial affiliation
to the PNM-UNC and now COP outfits, that performance in and
out of office is never really the major reason for throwing
one party out and returning another to office.
But maybe there could be similarity in the manner in which
Caribbean people may decide to deal with the phenomenon of
arrogance of politicians who operate as if incumbency gives
them the power and authority to do as they please without
reference to the populations who have put them into office.
The Compton/UWP victory was not a marginal shift indicating
some minor disaffection with the performance of Anthonys
party over two terms, but a dramatic swing-away that speaks
of dissatisfaction with the handling of crime and the economy
and the attitude to governance by the incumbent.
Back in 1995 when PM Manning called the election early, the
economy was performing admirably, crime was starting to exert
what has turned out to be its vice-like grip on the society
and Manning had begun to display the tendency to being seen
as the father of the nation who could do no wrong. He and
his party were then punished for their ineffectiveness with
crime and growing arrogance of attitude.
Once again the economy is buoyant beyond measure, but the
twin-sins of crime and arrogance are even more all-pervasive
than they were a decade ago.
And even though, as pointed out above, the electorate here
is very differently structured and disposed to voting than
it is in St Lucia and the opposition party there was far more
focused, united and without the weight of sins of the immediate
past, a few of the sentiments that caused Anthony to be shoved
out of office could occur to the uncommitted as good enough
reasons for change in an election to be held some time over
the next eight to ten months.
Even from this distance and notwithstanding all the imponderables
that might occur in the run-up to the next polls, a segment
of marginal PNM supporters and those others who voted out
Panday and the UNC may decide to stay at home on election
day to cause the PNM some measure of grief on the morning
But it may not be too late for Mr Manning and the PNM to learn
from the experience of Anthony and the SLP. A personal transformation
may be difficult to effect at this stage of Mannings
political life from being smug and self-assured to a disposition
more open to listening, especially to those who do not see
the world through the same lensesoften having the easy
compliance of those who believe in you as a political leader
or feign it to receive material and other kinds of benefits
is particularly useless.
In addition to consultation on serious national issues, the
PNM leader and Prime Minister could seek to make government
operations far more transparent, giving information and details
to the electorate before a dog-fight breaks out.
The procurement process for the proposed rail system is an
example of the greater transparency required.
Somehow, someone has to get it through the heads of the Prime
Minister and his Government that quality governance is not
about macho dominance.
He and his government have to understand that the resources
they commit to projects do not belong to them or to the PNM
and this generation of nationals, but to all living here and
generations into the future.
Mr Manning also has to disabuse himself of the notion that
he and his government have always been right. This column
is going to devote some research time to pointing to the several
instances in which they were wrong in their two stints in
government and the cost of those errors to taxpayers.
In the instance of the opposition parties, maybe they can
learn the lesson of Compton and the UWP. For instance, how
focused they were, how united they were as a political force
fighting against an incumbent riding high in the sky, how
much attention the UWP paid to convincing the electorate that
they had a plan to tackle the ills of the country, not merely
spouting useless and tired rhetoric which no one believes.
Dookeran and the COP have an opportunity to begin to shape
a serious national party instead of being a shadow of the
UNC with its focus on tribal loyalties. Dookeran has a national
image and respect; he should use those attributes to strike
out on a different path.
Maybe the UNC has taken heart from the fact of Compton being
a senior citizen to justify the formal return of Panday to
the leadership of the party.
There are, however, differences that should be taken note
of: Compton did not have a criminal conviction over his head,
neither did he have a history of dividing to rule.
The parties may put out their stockings asking Santa to bring
them these gifts.