Dateline: Friday 4th September; Port of Spain, Trinidad, West Indies.
Come next Monday morning, these twin-islands of roughly 2000 square miles (the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago) will be teeming hot.
No; it wouldn’t be about global warming. It will be all about the 2015 national elections. Voters go to the polls from six o’clock that morning until six that evening. And by the time it’s over this joint will be jumping. If the main opposition party wins, you can expect steelband-music on the streets of Port of Spain: the capital. If the ruling party retains the reins of government you can expect a lot of grumbling from some racial corners. One thing you can bet on come Tuesday morning, is a Jack Warner press conference wherein he will try to explain why his “Liberal” party won zero seats in parliament.
I have been down here following these political events for the past seventeen days. It has been hot; real hot: both literally and figuratively. At four in the morning I go to the beach. The water -like the local rum- is always fine. By four in the evening I go to the showers for the third or fourth time that day. As I said before: it’s hot; real hot.
By seven p.m. I tune into the local television stations for my nightly deluge of political ads. If political advertising is the measurement used for predicting the outcome of this election, then the ruling party will be re-elected by a wide margin. However, elections are won by actual votes (unless the ballot boxes are stuffed of course), not by slick advertising and cunning innuendo.
In May of 2010, I predicted in my regular column, that the government of the then ruling political party -The People’s National Movement (PNM)- was in mortal danger. You can find that column in my archives here on Room Eight New York Politics (www.r8ny.com). It was subtitled : “Patrick’s in Trouble”.
Back then, the controversial “Patrick” I was referring to, was the prime minister and political leader: Mr. Patrick Manning. In that election, the main opposition political parties (United National Congress/”UNC”, and the Congress of the People/”COP”) joined forces under a banner called “The People’s Partnership”. When the dust cleared, the “Partnership” -which also included a few other minor political entities- soundly whipped the PNM by winning 29 out of the 41 seats in the parliament. When the national votes were tallied the “Partnership” accumulated 432,026 votes against PNM’s 286,165. Around seventy per cent of the registered voters showed up that day.
This time around the registration rolls have grown to 1.1 million; quite high for a country of roughly one and a half million citizens. You can expect more than three-quarter million people to cast their votes next Monday.
So who is going to win this election?
I believe I know the answer; but I have been admonished by many, to not divulge it, so as to not demoralize many of the “deluded”; and likewise many who faithfully read my column. I will keep my promise not to do so; thus I will say a few things only; and you can draw your own conclusions beyond what I tell you here.
The PNM will surely get at least fourteen seats in the next 41-seat parliament. The ruling “Partnership” will surely get at least 18 seats in the next parliament. There are nine seats up for grabs. Of those nine the “Partnership” only needs to attain three in order to hold on to power. The opposition PNM needs to win seven of those nine. It’s not impossible a task for the PNM -given its electoral successes over the past 59 years- but it is surely a formidable task.
Does the “Partnership” deserve to be re-elected? Probably not. Their overall performance in office over the last five years has been spotty at best. The high-crime situation which they promised to turn around continues unabated. There is a pervasive perception that the government has favored “Indos” (people of East-Indian descent) over “Afros” (people of African descent), in terms of economic opportunities countrywide. Plus, the nation has been bombarded with political-scandal after political-scandal. Even the prime minister’s private life has been exposed as a long-running soap-opera. It has been alleged by quite a few people -including one of her former cabinet members- that she is a bi-sexual, who is prone to lewdness and drunkenness. A quantity of marijuana was found at her home during her tenure as prime minister. She denies being a drug-user in a country where the scourge of drug-use and drug-abuse fuel the high crime rate and corruption.
This historic prime minister (Mrs. Kamala Persad-Bisessar) was the first female to ever hold this post. Her promising beginnings have given way to charges that her government is corrupt. There have been claims of nepotism and the like. It is said that she heaps rewards on those she favors. It is alleged that some of her cabinet ministers who came into office with les than two shillings in their portfolios are now multi-millionaires. Some ministries routinely run large deficits in terms of spending; many of these expenditures seem to be unauthorized and/or unexplained.
Over the past five years, Kamla (as she loves being called) has taken a beating in many of the local newspapers and periodicals. So why isn’t PNM easily winning this election given all this?
The answer is simple: over the past six decades, the PNM has held power for roughly two-thirds of the time; and because of this, there are many in the population who quickly attribute blame for the many societal-ills on that party. These folks are -in general- reluctant to return political power to the PNM. Plus the current political leader of said party has turned out to be nearly as controversial a figure, as the last political leader of said party. Beyond this, in near all national elections held here, issues of race and ethnicity usually transcend issues of government-performance while in office, public policy formation, policy-prescriptions and choices; and as such, many of the seats in parliament hold easily predictable outcomes given racial lines.
As I write this column, the murder rate in New York City is about six times lower than that of these twin-islands. Frustration, anger, crime, and the fear of crime, continues to be pervasive after five years of promises. The people of this oil-producing nation helplessly watch as oil-prices fall day after day. Their economic future appears to be precarious, and yet, they still love to dance and party given the flimsiest reason. No matter who wins this election, TNT people will again find a reason to party. No matter who wins there will be dancing in the streets. No matter who wins there will be steel-drums or tassa-drums blaring. No matter who wins the problems remain.
Stay tuned-in folks.