This morning I know most of us are coming to terms with the details of the Budget for 2012/2013. We are trying to figure out how exactly this was a budget that targets the rich when both middle and lower income persons will face the brunt of the reduced fuel subsidy and all its fall out in the areas of increased taxi fares and prices for anything that requires fuel. The business community here has never impressed the population with scruples; so, I imagine plenty belly banding start already. And then there is the illusion of lower food prices because of VAT removal. As of the time of writing the government is yet to release this list of 7000 new items that are now non-Vatable. I do know that she listed Ovaltine and Milo as some of the new items that are zero-rated, when in truth and fact Ovaltine and Milo were zero-rated under the previous regime…but she was advised!
But my focus this morning is still the Pre-Budget Rally, not for its uselessness and vulgar display of a government addicted to its own PR. Rather for the implications of the Prime Minister’s speech.
Our politics has always been riddled with ethnic tension. Political scientist Kirk Meighoo notes that “Indian-Negro tensions manifested themselves as early as Jamuary 1961…” as a result of PNM supporters breaking up DLP meetings. The DLP complained that they were not receiving adequate protection by the “Negro-dominated police”. Meighoo goes on to say that the elections of 1961 “have been considered the most tense in the country’s history, with race seeming to dominate the campaigns.” Fed up of PNM attacks on his meetings, DLP leader Rudranath Capildeo lost his temper at a meeting one evening and called on his supporters to take action. He said to them, “You will be called to arms. Wherever the PNM holds a meeting you will have to break it up.” And violence did break out during that election, causing limited States of Emergency in political seats like St. Augustine, Barataria, Caroni East and Chaguanas.
Flash forward to the present. On Saturday Mrs Persad-Bissessar made several statements that caused me some alarm. She advised the crowd to, “get in yuh section”, “an election is coming”, “we know who the enemy is”. Sections? Enemies? If this was a pre-Budget rally, why was it sounding like an election campaign? Why was the Prime Minister, at a meeting she claims the people called for, making comments that indicated it was “We versus Them”? In a country of Trinbagonians, who precisely are the “enemies” that the PM is speaking of? And why such divisive and attacking language? The election she referred to was the THA election. And the mood of the crowd at the time of her speech was drunkenly aggressive. I was standing in the midst of it looking on and wondering what madness was being incited at the Mid-Centre Mall car park. In a country where people’s tempers are stretched thin by any number of daily issues, the Prime Minister was being extremely imprudent.
Prior to the PM’s speech there were many subtle and overt comments to attack the PNM, at what was billed as a pre-Budget Rally. The fiercest attacks came from Ramlogan, Roberts and Moonilal. Their speeches were delivered early in the event, so by the end of the first 45 minutes of an event to announce the Budget, the predominantly UNC crowd was whipped into an anti-PNM frenzy. It was in stark contrast to their rallies of 2010. At those rallies then Opposition Leader Persad-Bissessar had stated to all her her audiences that she was running a clean campaign. There would be no slurring or mudslinging on her platform. She insisted that she was running a campaign focused on sober discussion of issues. The façade of being a principled coalition fell on Saturday.
The woman who is brought onstage to Celine Dion songs, dressed very femininely in demure and muted shades of yellow; the woman who routinely reminds us that her decision-making is informed by her status as both a mother and a grandmother revealed her claws. And she can scratch. At the helm of a party and government responsible for a multi-ethnic population phrases like “get in yuh section” and “we know who the enemy is” sound an alarum.
This in the wake of Warner openly casting aspersions on Asha Javeed, and we start seeing a trend with this government: attack the media, treat citizens of the country that are not Pro-UNC as the enemy and use both subtle and overt references to race and ethnicity as the determining factor.
We already have a situation whereby instead of promoting people who have genuinely achieved, regardless of their ethnicity, this government has been hellbent on reinventing political, social and cultural history to suit itself. Roodal Moonilal, introduced by Anil Roberts, as a man with more degrees than Rowley, announced to the crowd that Adrian Cola Rienzi founded the OWTU. He didn’t. He was the first sitting President of the union because Butler had to go into hiding from the authorities. But he can’t be called the union’s founder. But this is the kind of politics to be expected from this regime. Twisted, menacing and corrupt.
Three months away from THA elections, I still looking for a section. Please advise, Madam PM?