Bracing for battle in Tobago
It is clear that Tobago is shaping up to be a major political battleground over the next eight months as the campaign intensifies towards the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections in January. Given the electoral configuration in Trinidad, the People's Partnership and the People's National Movement (PNM) both recognise that Tobago's two seats could be decisive in determining which party forms the next national government. And for that, control of the Tobago House of Assembly would be critical.
The people of Tobago may therefore be forgiven if they see themselves as mere pawns in a larger political game. Even so, they would be well-advised to brace themselves for a campaign of unprecedented intensity.
Already, the political tone on the sister isle has turned strident, even vitriolic. This weekend's anniversary celebrations of the Partnership Government had all the marks of a full-blown election campaign, complete with a long list of goodies and promises from the Prime Minister and a battery of allegations from the United National Congress (UNC) chairman who urged Tobagonians to fire the PNM from the THA.
It would seem that even at this early stage, the political gladiators are preparing to take no prisoners in the battle over the THA.
Ultimately, however, it is the people of Tobago who will set the standards for public debate by what they accept, how they respond to what is offered, and by the priorities they set on their agenda.
Tobago's agenda is no mystery.
Having enjoyed a certain level of autonomy well before Trinidad, the island has always bristled under what it perceives as Trinidad's hegemony over its affairs as part of the unitary state of Trinidad and Tobago.
Under the leadership of Arthur NR Robinson, Tobagonians fought for the creation of the Tobago House of Assembly as an institution supportive of greater autonomy. One might have expected Robinson's National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) administration of 1986-91 to have finessed the THA and more fully articulated the terms of association between the islands, but that was not to be.
Today, 12 years into the 21st century, Tobago still searches for a quality of representation that understands its history, its culture and its special need to pursue a development path away from dependence on Trinidad in meeting its many challenges. For Tobago, it is not simply about autonomy but about autonomy for the purpose of self-reliant development.
The confrontational nature of our politics is particularly devastating on an island as small as Tobago where family and community are still the bedrock of society and where an independent spirit survives outside the framework of partisan politics.
These are the forces that Tobago, like Trinidad, needs to call upon as it faces the future in an uncertain world.
In the face of the emerging political campaign, it might still be possible for Tobago to extricate itself from enveloping acrimony by promoting initiatives towards national consensus on key areas including constitutional reform and development planning.