Saturday, February 24, 2018

After January 21, 2013


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In this country we tend to vote against, not for. I have long interpreted that approach as an aspect of our ever-ready willingness to pull down, whether people or institutions, in easy preference to building up. By all means criticise, but do so constructively. Instead, we waste too much time and energy on personal attacks, and attributing blame and responsibility to others for matters we should be attending to ourselves.

It's no wonder we don't make the progress we should and could.

It's now being said, in our usual mindless way, that the "Africans" of Tobago voted last January 21 against "Indians", and thus for the "African" PNM. Among others, Sat Maharaj has called for a boycott of the island, by "Indians", obviously. It is also being said that Tobago "was always PNM", that is, black people voting for black people, so what did you expect?

"Tribalism", Jack Warner calls it.

But does the PNM really rule the roost in Tobago?

Let's look at election results over the years.

The present THA came into being in 1980, when the first elections to that body were held (according to the law, each Assembly session lasts for four years). Between 1980 and 1996 there were five elections, all of which were won by non-PNM parties - the Democratic Action Congress (DAC) in 1980 and 1984, the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) thereafter. Indeed, after the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 elections the PNM held only 1 of the 12 THA seats. (That PNMite was William McKenzie, unconquered from 1980 to 2001, after which he took retirement.)

Does that suggest a PNM stranglehold on Tobago?

There was however one major factor in those elections: the dominant presence of Arthur NR Robinson, as he then was.

"Ah we boy", a professional of the kind Tobagonians respect, had been badly treated by Eric Williams and the PNM, who were made to pay.

Once more, the Tobago sense of self prevailed, whatever discomfort there might have been with Robinson himself. Race did not enter the equation.

The change began with the formal departure of Robinson from Tobago politics. He had anointed Hochoy Charles in December 1996, and that month the NAR under Charles won ten of the 12 seats (one went to an Independent) with nearly 60 per cent of the vote. Enter Orville London, himself narrowly defeated in the same election.

Charles is the most Tobago-centric of the island politicians; no one can credibly question his unbending commitment to Tobago.

Alas, it was in improperly planned, though well-meaning, furtherance of that commitment that, as Chief Secretary, he fell into error - Adda, Ringbang, the dysfunctional scholarship programme, etc.

London for his part is the smoothest and most articulate of Tobago politicians and, if I may with the greatest respect to the others say so, the best rounded. (His performance as Chief Secretary has however been distinguished more for rhetoric than action, and the quality of his leadership, according to the May 2011 CADRES poll, has underwhelmed Tobagonians. But that is for another day.)

Charles' missteps and lack of political subtlety (he clearly had not learned well from Robinson) were the perfect foil for London.

A little more than four years after his massive victory, Charles was swept from office in January 2001 - the ten to two win of 1996 was converted into an eight to four loss, and his party's 60 per cent share of the vote shrank to less than 40 per cent. The people of Tobago had voted against him. Race did not enter the equation.

The PNM has won all three THA elections after 2001, culminating in the whitewash (in the circumstances, perhaps I should say "redwash") of January 21. But does that mean that Tobago is PNM country? Let's now look at parliamentary elections.

It was in 1961 that the PNM first won Tobago, with Robinson, then a leading light in the party, and the late Basil Pitt in the vanguard. The party won again in 1966 and (of course) in 1971 following that year's Opposition no-vote campaign inspired by the same Robinson, who had by then broken with the party. In the five general elections that followed, from 1976 to 1995, the PNM was unable to win a single seat - it was only in 2000 that it managed to secure one, through Stanford Callender in Tobago West. Does that suggest a PNM stranglehold on Tobago?

In 2001 the PNM kept Tobago West - Callender picked up more than 1,300 additional votes - and won Tobago East as well. It retained both seats in 2002 and 2007, then lost both in 2010. Why? Because of race? But in that election the voters knew that the TOP, which they preferred to the PNM, was part of a PP coalition in which the strongest partner was the UNC, widely regarded as an "Indian" party. So did they then vote for "Indians" over the "African" PNM? You see where race "reasoning" could lead us?

To sum up, of nine THA elections between 1980 and 2013, the PNM has won four and lost five. Of 12 general elections since 1961, the 1971 election excepted, the PNM has won five-and-a-half and lost six-and-a-half. Does that suggest a PNM stranglehold on Tobago?

What will happen in the next general election I cannot say. In these matters I always quote the late British prime minister, the canny Harold Wilson: "a week is a long time in politics."

And we are much more than a week away from national polls.

From Eric Williams to the present, the Trinidad-based politicians (apparently now joined by a few Tobagonians who one thought knew better) have myopically pursued a centralising policy and failed to discern, or to accept, that Tobago is not any party's country. Tobago is Tobago country.

My next article will be the last in this series

Martin Daly's column

returns next week