Trinidad and Tobago Political Affairs

No Jumbie-Umbrella Party Will Satisfy the Need

by Tony Rakhal-Fraser

[Sunday Guardian August 30 2020]

“Time for Action” is now, to borrow from the Sir Shridath Ramphal report on Caricom integration, and to apply it to the need for political transformation in Trinidad and Tobago.  Those parties and individuals who continue to articulate the imperative for change in the political culture are behind time, if they have not begun thinking and acting on the need to evolve, with the participation and partnership of the electorate, alternative political forms for collective governance.

Electoral and Boundaries Commission of Trinidad and Tobago

Many conclusions and analyses can, and have been drawn from the voting data of the 2020 poll.  What I discern from the results of the election is that while there was a section of the electorate (outside of the UNC support base) that was not impressed with the performance of the PNM government led by PM Keith Rowley, and so did not vote again for the PNM, the large majority of PNM supporters (and non-hardcore supporters who may have voted PNM in 2015) preferred not to transfer hope to the opposition UNC. UNC supporters however continued to register hope and expectation in their party to win the government; indeed that support grew in a few constituencies.

In the circumstances, the major conclusion I draw from the above is that hardcore tribal loyalties prevailed. Further, and without hard fact, it’s reasonable to suggest that a significant percentage of those who stayed away from the 2020 poll, and those who consistently stay away from voting are not enthused by performance, and the politics of the parties.   

On at least two occasions (1986 and 2010) when something of an alternative political option  and mobilization sprung up, even if like Jumbie Umbrellas – here today gone tomorrow – not only did the percentage of voters increase – 65.45pc and 69.45, but the enthusiasm of the electorate for change was patent in the campaign. 

I well remember at National Alliance for Reconstruction [NAR] meeting in Goodwood Park in 1986, I scanned and walked around the huge crowd consisting mainly of upper and middle-class whites and browns, reacting with something approaching wild enthusiasm to Baptist woman, Margaret Hector – head “tie-up” and all, and Hindu, Basdeo Panday. I reflected to myself that it was all over for the PNM: forget the numbers, you could not help but feel the vibrations of something happening.

Often the emphases after the election are for analysts and politicians to play with aspects of the numbers to suit their political positions and choices.  So too, over-emphasis is placed on the nature and focus of the campaigns of the parties, when in reality the decision to return or reject a party/government had been taken months, years even, before the campaign. Fact is, that except for a couple occasions over the last 30-plus years, the electorate has been in search of new forms of government and politics, voting one party out for the other, and finding, according to Basdeo Panday, that it got “exchange”.  

This election, it stuck with what it had, afraid to venture to the known. All of the above is to say to the minority parties, individuals, and those from amongst the population who feel the need for a renewal of the Independence mandate – much like what retired head of the public service, Reginald Dumas, ventured back in 2015, the time is now to ResetTT.

As this columnist commented on in columns before the 2020 general election, the practice of scrambling to initiate a new party 12 to six months before an election, to win the favour of the electorate has proven to be a disaster; completely unworkable.  The Time to Start is now! Most importantly though, is the approach to be adopted to fashion a political organisation, culture, and mobilization strategy distinct from the bases upon which the tribal monoliths of the present were formed, and now function.

The formational dialogue must be removed from seeking to capitalise on trivia, perceived and real, of the governing and opposing parties. Amongst other things, a rationale for the existence of a new party, with a new philosophy, and a transformational agenda for the existence of the party must be articulated and broadly discussed amongst the people: PNM, UNC, and all having a desire for change. Would-be demigods wanting to build their own political fortresses must surrender such notions, and begin to appreciate the deep needs of the society and polity.  As argued above, the disposition to change is in the population. 

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