This week, Etienne Mendez, an intelligent and long standing member of the People’s National Movement posted the following on Facebook: “45 years ago, PR was ‘a dagger aimed at the heart of the PNM’. So said the Boss. Not a damn dog dared bark. Must that dictum still apply today? Is the PNM so arrogant that we still feel that what’s good for the PNM must be good for the Republic? Shouldn’t it matter more whether the dagger will do more harm to the nation, than to the party? I submit that the party should review this ‘irrevocable’ posture. This doctrine has outlived its usefulness. There are several variants of PR which could be examined for suitability, discussion and consideration. And then for placing in the public domain as a PNM variant. But the party must have the fortitude to abandon the old “dagger” theory as being no longer relevant to the 21st century.”
Getting favourable responses, Mendez continued: “Surely, there are enough voices calling for PR for the party to at least consider and deviate from doctrinaire positions. Why should the party drive the Government to these extreme measures by being obstinate about PR? We’re all in this together. Our children would demand nothing less of us.”
Absolutely refreshing! Mr Mendez must be congratulated for his courage to express views contrary to those of his party’s leadership on this critical matter. He has called on the PNM to be responsible. Our oldest party stands accused of being the stumbling block to that inclusive society that proportional representation will engender.
PR is the best system to embrace our great diversity: 35.4 per cent East Indian, 34.2 per cent Africans, 22.8 per cent Mixed, 6.2 per cent Undeclared and 1.4 per cent Chinese, White, Syrian, Lebanese. But our politics has been dominated by the two major races, in separate camps, constituting the majority support of the PNM and the UNC, under a first past the post system which has never accommodated our plurality. The result is that more than half the population feels alienated from the mainstream after every general election.
First past the post has also suffocated all attempts to establish genuinely multiracial parties. It killed the ONR after 1981 and forced the COP, in 2010, to become part of the Partnership where it died anyway. It entrenches tribal politics and keeps our political discourse backward and unenlightened, allowing politicians to get away with massive waste, mismanagement and corruption from the gas station racket to the Life Sport programme.
The Government says it wants proportional representation, that during the consultation, people called for it, and so it came with the present bill because the PNM would not support PR which needs a special majority in Parliament. So the PNM is in a spot. Proportional representation is the salvation of third and fourth parties.
So all who say they want to protect smaller parties should not only criticise the Government but, like Etienne Mendez, call on the PNM to play its part in removing the winner take all paradigm that has plagued this country, deepening divisions in the society for the past fifty years. Mobilising for PR will also put the Government to the test, so we could know the extent of their commitment to change. Therefore with a voice reverberating from Scarborough to Cedros, all must call for proportional representation to replace the first past the post system of voting in Trinidad and Tobago. We will then see how the PNM and the Partnership will respond. We will also know who will join the call, who really has the national interest at heart. Because one remains very suspicious of those who vehemently condemn the Government but studiously avoid stating their position on the fundamental issue of proportional representation. Many point fingers at the flaws of the bill but ignore the responsibility of the Opposition. Are they merely seeing an opportunity to bring down the government and is the attainment of power their only objective? Is there a darkness here that must be monitored?
The time is ripe for fundamental change. Over the years only the few have talked of constitutional reform. Now with the amendment bill is coming down the track, the entire nation is alert. We should not let this moment of unprecedented awareness slip. Let us put both government and opposition to the test. Let us see whether our political class will seize this historic moment to save this country. Thanks Etienne, for pointing the way.