Saturday, February 24, 2018

Campaign of the walking dead


Mark Fraser

In just a few days from now the longest and most boring election campaign ever staged in this country will come to an end and the registered, though not necessarily financial, members of the PNM will go to the polling stations to select a political leader for their party.

Polling day could not come soon enough. I am neither a member nor supporter of the PNM, but as a striving political analyst and commentator, I made an effort to follow as closely as I could the meanderings of the campaign. After all, the PNM is a major political institution in this country and its new political leader, within the space of a year, may well be our new prime minister.

This is why one would have thought that this leadership campaign would have been full of interest and excitement. For the candidates must have understood that their campaign had to aim not simply at winning over party supporters but also needed to seek to engage the wider population in what would be the de facto beginning of the general election campaign.

Unfortunately anyone waiting for interest and excitement in this campaign would have waited in vain. From start to finish this excruciatingly long campaign shuffled its wearisome way, its members like a horde of zombies going from here to nowhere, and only occasionally stirring from their stupor to make some noise at some disturbance in the environment.

A big part of the problem undoubtedly derived from the sheer length of the campaign—four months from the announcement of the campaign to the designated polling day. Not even general election campaigns have been that long. More than that, the campaign straddled the Carnival season. And the only strategy one could discern behind trying to stage a political campaign at the height of the Carnival season is an attempt to drown the campaign.

But even in the post-Carnival period the campaign failed to come to life. There were occasional stirrings over so-called splits in the party, over the election lists, and, at the very end, over who was spending party funds to finance their campaign; but none of these issues ever ignited in such a way as to capture the attention of the general population.

At what should have been the height of the campaign the population was preoccupied with whether a 12-year-old had been legitimately disciplined or grievously abused. At the height of the campaign the population was preoccupied with allegations of fraud occurring in the Solicitor General’s office and wondering about why the Prime Minister did not want an independent investigation.

At the height of the campaign the population was besieged with paeans of praise to ANR Robinson and with the spectacle of his state funeral. And at the height of the campaign the population found itself mortified and afraid after the clinical assassination of Dana Seetahal SC. In other words, at what should have been the height of the campaign, the population was besieged with news and views on everything else but the campaign.

As far as the candidates themselves were concerned their campaign strategy was and remains a mystery. It is as though each was vying to outdo the other in strategic reticence on the premise that the less one says the less anyone can accuse you of saying. For his part Dr Rowley was content to make his presence felt mainly in his role as Leader of the Opposition, barking loudly at every issue which presented itself on the national stage.

As a candidate however he had no theme. He was more concerned to explain why he had to be an aggressive politician than with elaborating any vision of a new future for his party or for the country.

As far as Ms Beckles-Robinson was concerned her strategy appeared to be one of campaigning in “seereek” style so that her victory on election day would appear to be all the more remarkable. Indeed her lack of presence left one to wonder why she declared herself as a candidate in the first place or whether the unfortunate developments surrounding members of her family simply took the wind out of her sails.

Not even the announcements of the respective slates of candidates could stir the campaign from its stupor. Indeed once the slates had been announced it became clear as to why the campaign was so excruciatingly boring. The fact is that both slates were comprised of a veritable who’s who of the walking dead.

Unfortunately that fact is nothing to laugh about. Not when we come to face the fact that, as at this point in time, any contemplation which we may have of rightly getting rid of the nasty bunch of predators who currently control the levers of our government, must face the grim reality of placing our future in the hands of these zombies of our past.

• Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and commentator on politics and society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean.