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A pnm win, but a Tobago victory

By Winford James

As Orville London stated in his "victory speech'' on Monday, January 21, the 12-0 outcome of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections was not merely a People's National Movement (PNM) victory but, more importantly, a Tobago one. That the PNM won is a fact, but that the victory is Tobago's is an interpretation or judgment. So I agree with the interpretation. But there is a major problem already: in at least two acts, Mr London has immediately begun to govern as if the victory is the PNM's.

The first act is to have appointed secretaries and assistant secretaries from the pool of PNM winners and other PNM members. The second is to have written the prime minister to request an amendment of the constitution in order to have the president authorised to appoint two "neutral'' assemblymen to provide formal opposition in the House.

He has done so reflexively of course—in automatic obedience to the winner-take-all political psychology of our Trinbagonian and Caribbean culture. But the acts demonstrate as clearly as night follows day that politicians—if not the rest of us— will say nice-sounding things without either the benefit of sufficient reflection or a rock-solid intention of governing in accordance with the meaning of their triumphant words.

Did he mean what he told us that exuberant night? Let's grant that he did. In that case, he could only mean that a PNM win and a Tobago victory are one and the same thing. Another way of putting this is that he felt that Tobagonians had given themselves victory by voting the PNM.

But, clearly, this interpretation of his is wrong. It is in several ways but in two in particular. The first is that it suggests a dangerously inflated sense of PNM worthiness, and the second is that it suggests a dangerous misreading of voter support for his party. But both suggest an unhealthy self-delusion that does not augur well for the development of Tobagonian politics and society.

Let's expand the first way first. The 12-0 outcome could conceivably lead Mr. London to think that the PNM's performance over the last 12 years was so brilliant in the different areas of responsibility that thousands of floaters, independents, and TOP migrants were bowled over. But bowled over by what? By incompletion of projects since or before the beginning of his tenure? By dramatic declines in the number of tourist arrivals and in occupancy rates at hotels and guesthouses? By the continuing poor performance of Tobago as an educational district languishing near the bottom of district performance across the nation? By the non-removal of longstanding inadequacies in public health? By victimisation of political dissenters in the award of contracts and the distribution of state jobs? By slothful policy on the brain drain and expansion of the Tobagonian economy?

Hardly. These indices are hardly testimonies of PNM worthiness.

What about the second way? If thousands of floating, independent, and migrant TOP voters could not reasonably be impressed by PNM performance, why did they vote for the party instead of TOP or TPT? I would say they voted against something rather than for the PNM – in much the same way that thousands of floaters, independents, and migrants from the PNM voted against Patrick Manning's imperial extremism than for the promise of better government by the untested coalition of the UNC, COP, TOP, MSJ, and NJAC. In this case, they voted against blatantly bad government from the coalition, which threatened to further reduce the autonomy of Tobagonians and further colonise the island.

It is in this sense that the 12-0 outcome was a Tobago victory. The PNM – once you ruled out the TPT on the basis of its loss of Robinson's constituency – was simply the best – some would say the least bad – option in the circumstance.

Indeed, the 12-0 outcome was a Tobago revolution!

That being the case, we can now better appreciate the disconnect between Mr London's declaration of a Tobago victory and his acts of requesting of Mrs Persad-Bissessar a specific constitutional amendment and appointing only PNM people in the House.

He clearly does not see the vote as the people's revolution. So, in addition to appointing his election winners as secretaries and assistant secretaries, he appoints Kelvin Charles as presiding officer, and Denise Angus and Gary Melville as councillors—all PNM people. And on top of that, he calls on the prime minister to fill a gap in the House by providing "neutral'' opposition assemblymen through constitution amendment. Given his abundance of riches, he could have appointed a clearly non-PNM presiding officer and clearly non-PNM councillors— through asking the people to make proposals – —but he went the reflexive way of hogging everything—this, in a time of revolution.

And yet, he exulted about a Tobago victory.

Tragic. Really.

• Winford James is a uwi lecturer and a political analyst.

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