Dateline: Tuesday 8th September, 2015; Diamond Vale, Trinidad, West Indies.
After three weeks of blistering days and nights, where heat and humidity measurements were noticeably above average for even an ex-patriot like me; yesterday was cool and calm with measurable rain all over Trinidad. Was it the calm before a political storm? Was it the calm before real political reform? Time will tell.
Yesterday, for the first time in history, the Elections and Boundaries Commission extended voting for an hour past the legally mandated closing time; but only in Trinidad; not in Tobago. The official reason given was: due to the heavy rains, which caused delays, traffic jams, disruptions and some flooding. What a country of surprises and strange doings!
My first surprise came in the wee hours. One of my two elder brothers -who had flown in from Europe the night before- came to pick me up, and we drove to Macqueripe Beach for an early morning swim. It was an epic of good things to come that day.
You see, the political party I was rooting for: won. While the party I feared would win: lost. So last night I was dancing in the streets to the beat of calypso.
Fifty-nine years ago -back in September of 1956- my deceased father (John Milton Hackshaw) was a general-council-member of the People’s National Movement. He was one of the party’s original members, and also one of the pioneering (initial) 24 candidates in the national election. The party was less than eight months old then.
He lost his race that night, but the party won and formed the government. My father eventually won a seat for PNM (in the Port of Spain City Council), three years later. What was profound of that September night fifty-nine years ago though was the fact that my dad helped build a political institution in this country, which will be sixty years old next January. Over the years he and I had many a political fight between us. In education, politics and economics, we didn’t always see things eye to eye; and even though I do consider myself an independent thinker, PNM blood flows through my veins.
Last night, the People’s Partnership coalition lost power: much to the chagrin of the thousands who supported them. The People’s National Movement political party won (23-18), and by doing so, surprised many with their strong performance. The “PNM until ah dead”-heads are happy once again. The PNM is back in power once again.
Today, Mr. Keith Rowley will swear in as the new prime minister. He will be the seventh prime minister in our nation’s history. He will be the second one who was born on the smaller island of Tobago. He will head the new government. Once again political power will be transferred without violence and/or bloodshed. For this we should all be proud.
By weekend we will be back to business as usual down here. All the bitterness, rancor, race-baiting, nastiness and “commess” of this recent political campaign, will stop on a dime. Hallelujah!
TNT people will be partying this weekend like nobody’s business; while on some boat-ride to nowhere: as weekends usually go in TNT. And for the next five years I seriously doubt any significant attempt to amend the constitution will unfold: although it needs to be done. Thus you can expect a repeat of this racially-charged election five years from now. Thus you may find charges of nepotism, corruption, racism, favoritism and incompetence coming from opposing corners. Since I am rooting for this new government to succeed, I do hope I am wrong on this.
Do expect to see the gaps between rich and poor widen. You can make book that the rich will get richer; drug-runners will flourish; murders will persist; thieves will thrive; crime will terrorize people’s minds; and people with good strings will have more pull in a society heading for an eco-socio-political cataclysm; unless there are radical moves in politics, economics, sociology, psychology and education.
In my previous column, I told my readers that “PP” will get a minimum of 18 seats; with “PNM” a minimum of 14. That assessment proved to be absolutely correct. Privately, I felt that PP would prevail in a very close election; but I chose not to go public with my fears of “voter-padding” and other “dirty tricks”. The PP probably got a plurality of the raw votes as I expected; but as I always emphasize: it comes down to winning seats not raw votes here.
The fact that PNM ran the table in the nine seats that I accurately told you readers were up for grabs is some feat in itself. I did tell you in my last column that this wasn’t beyond PNM’s capability given their history. For me, it was a pleasant surprise.
On another serious note: The Elections and Boundaries Commission needs to be revamped. There are too many dead people (and ex-patriots too) still living on their voter-list. I know this first-hand. It is shameful that in a highly technological age, people who haven’t voted for almost two decades are still being mailed voting papers. Dead people should never show up on voting lists. Clean elections are the cornerstones of true democracies.
So TNT has now held fifteen national elections since 1956. PNM has won or tied in about a dozen of them. Once again the party has been handed an opportunity to do great things for the nation. Let’s wish them well. Let’s hope they reach out to the many people who are willing to contribute time, energy, expertise and the like, in order to help in the country’s overall development.
Nineteen-fifty-six was the year our British colonial masters granted us internal “self-government” status. Those were the days when our so-called progressive leaders allowed suffering school children, the privilege of standing in the hot sun for hours, while waiting for some royal leech from England to pass in some limousine; so that said children could cheer, while waving the “union-jack”. TNT people have always tolerated mediocrity from their leaders. It isn’t much different today, and after 53 years of independence, we are still a long way from developing an enlightened electorate; but ostensibly we are getting there: albeit slowly.
Back in 1970, I wrote a piece elaborating on my view that we should move to “proportional representation” as a way of breaking this racial traffic-jam (and deadlock), which hurts our democracy and transcends valid issues during election time. I am going to revisit these ideas in a future column. Some black folks won’t like those views but c’est la vie.
Stay tuned-in folks.