Monday's THA elections, and the campaign that just ended have useful lessons in them for both our present and future political selves. The country has had the opportunity to see both PNM and UNC (forget TOP, Ashworth clearly attached to Kamla's hip) in political action yet again and to observe the tactics and politics of both parties. If you have only been following the radio ads and media interviews; then your perception of what is being discussed and offered by both parties may well be limited. Much of what is actually happening in Tobago isn't apparent to the Trini audience and is in fact happening at cottage meetings, not political rallies.
Either way, Tobago must be exhausted by now and certainly in a position to make decisions on Monday that will have serious impact on how the next 30 months of politics go here. Because in roughly that time both UNC and PNM will face the polls again in a general election. THA will determine the nature of the Local Government Elections....if we actually have one. And the outcome of the LGE will certainly set the tone for the next general Elections.
THA 2013 is a referendum for both parties. A loss for the UNC will tell Kamla and the UNC resoundingly that she has lost favour with the electorate, while a loss for the PNM may well lead to the undoing of The Keith and Orville London as Opposition Leader and Deputy Political Leader respectively. A win for the UNC will see them tighten their hold on the administration of the entire country; while a win for the PNM will mean that the PNM is beginning to regain its political footing in the aftermath of 2010's crushing defeat. Either way, both parties have much to lose and gain from a victory on Monday.
But let's look at what has transpired in the last 3 months:
At the time of writing a teenaged girl alleges that she was beaten up by an older TOP supporter for wearing A PNM t-shirt. As with all instances of female abuse under this regime's tenure there is no comment by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Gender Affairs, Marlene Coudray or from the feminist activists in this country.
This happened in the week the government miraculously managed to bring the THA Bill to Parliament for discussion, 32 months into the PPs tenure and mere days before the most contentious THA election yet. The tabling of the Bill is largely seen as an election gimmick: a ruse by the TOP and UNC to mama guile Tobagonians into believing they matter. The Bill remains problematic for Tobagonians because it ignored years of public consultation undertaken by the THA on behalf of citizens, and has loopholes that undermine the autonomy discussion. That the UNC and TOP stalled on holding proper public consultations in the last 32 months, and then suddenly tabled the Bill during an election season, coupled with the the fiasco of Section 34, probably makes it hard for most citizens to not be skeptical about this government an its laws.
It is now approximately two weeks since the infamous Calcutta Ship statement by PNM official Hilton Sandy; and three months since Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar stood before an audience at Mid-Centre mall and began the race-baiting that has typified this THA election when she announced to the crowd gathered, "we know who the enemy is....get in yuh section". Yet no one seems to remember that the person to throw the first salvo in partisan politics was none other than the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. The same lady who, after announcing that the UNC would only be providing logistical support to the TOP, has spent almost a fortnight in Tobago, campaigning and endorsing the TOP, not in her role as political leader of the UNC, but in her capacity as Prime Minister. The message being sent by the Persad-Bissessar here again is that she is PM for only those who favour her and no one else. One would swear that there are two versions of Trinidad and Tobago: one run by the UNC, and another one left to languish and suffer for good governance
Has it been a month yet since we found out about the amazing house that was built by pumpkin and cucumbers as well as the revelation that TOP leader Ashworth Jack had not submitted documents to the Integrity Commission in two years, around the time the Pumpkin Mansion was being built? Despite complaints to the IC, they are yet to step out and question Jack's eligibility to run for the office of Chief Secretary, despite ignoring the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act.
Two months have passed since the THA posted documents online about the Milshirv project. And since upload of the documents the Attorney General, who had alleged corruption on the project went silent. Until this week, when miraculously he began legal proceedings against London; legal proceedings that the Treasury of Trinidad and Tobago will have to pay for whether or not the Attorney General's claims against London's THA prove to be true.
The UNC has made it absolutely clear that a THA victory is extremely important to them. Some believe that it will be a psychological blow for the PNM to have lost general and local government elections and now the THA. Winning will give pro-partnership supporters something to gloat about; but given the amount of energy and resources being thrown out behind Tobago, and the PMs personal interest in fighting the campaign on Jack's behalf, I sense Tobago is far more important than playground bragging rights.
A lot of Tobago's importance to Trinidad is wrapped up in the THA Bill. The quest for autonomy by Tobagonians is one that most Trinidadians do not understand, and the UNC and TOP seem to be counting on that misunderstanding. Most Trinidadians are unaware that Tobago had autonomy for more than a century before being warded to Trinidad. In short, autonomy isn't new to Tobagonians, and for us to refuse them a political status they once had is to treat Tobagonians with intense disdain and contempt. We talk of respect for Tobagonians, but refuse to let them handle their own affairs.
Another little known fact about Tobago, but one that is now coming to light with the fight for maritime boundaries, is that since the 1970s our governments have been aware that there are fuel deposits in Tobago's seabed. When you consider what fuel revenues can mean for both Tobago's development and Trinidad's failing economy, you can appreciate why the TOP and UNC have come together to lay siege. As with everything else, follow the oil trail and the story becomes clearer.
In this past week we also saw Sat Maharäj and the Indian High Commissioner become entangled in another diplomatic snafu. Maharaj wants funding for a Hindu temple in Tobago, and he is seeking this funding from India. Ambassador Misra has instead advocated for a cultural centre: a suggestion that promotes cultural awareness about all of India, not just one aspect. Why is a Hindu temple more important than a cultural centre that promotes knowledge, learning and perhaps even acceptance of a culture that is for the most part foreign to Tobago. One wonders at Maharaj's aggression towards the High Commissioner; and his decision to go directly to Delhi for funding also raises questions about the various MOUs between the two governments in the now infamous 2011 state funded trip to India. Will we ever get a complete breakdown of what was agreed to and why a temple in Tobago is now so important?
32 months into the UNC's tenure and we are facing another election: one filled with mudslinging, race baiting, corruption allegations, underperformance and unaccountability. Crowds are being rented, election goodies are being distributed. The major difference between January 21st and May24, 2010 is that we have had more than two years of the People's Partnership in Government. Tobagonians are now aware of what the PNM is capable of and what a UNC/TOP government is capable of. Let's see what choice they make.