Every general election is hard fought but, judging from the current tone of the politics, the next election campaign is very likely to carry Trinidad and Tobago into unprecedented and damaging territory.
With a little more than a year to go before a general election must be called, political interests are already in campaign mode, carrying the fight to each other in increasingly novel ways. Indeed, it seems as if the 2010 campaign never really ended. A series of political rallies, multiple elections and regular cabinet reshuffles have kept the country in a state of political tension and rivalry akin to a campaign period for much of the term of the People’s Partnership Government. With the PNM having completed its internal elections, and the COP and ILP due to conduct theirs before month-end, the electorate is being primed for the final phase of the campaign. Still outstanding is the UNC elections which could become acutely interesting if candidates emerge to challenge Kamla Persad-Bissessar for the position of political leader.
Once the season of party elections is over, we can expect an unrelenting battle all the way to the polls. Judging from current developments, the electorate should prepare itself for every possible trick of the political trade. Already it would seem that mailboxes and in-boxes are overflowing with a surfeit of compromising information, some of which are of public interest, others of merely prurient interest.
Developments in communication technology are radically transforming the way political campaigns are conducted. At its best, social media further democratises the political process by bringing people directly into the process and by creating communities that are independent and highly politicised. The quality of discussion found within many social media groups has never existed on such a scale within T&T’s political parties. At its worst, however, social media facilitates fraud, mischief-making and the viral spread of lies and character assassination.
In T&T, we have witnessed the phenomenon of paid bloggers, fake IDs and hackers whose job is to spread propaganda, spew disinformation and undermine the credibility of opponents. In the cyberworld of multiple realities, even the seasoned consumer can be tricked. This is clearly not a world for the unwary. We in the media have not been spared either. This newspaper has been among the victims when a government operative using the fake ID of “Janice Thomas’’ unleashed a plethora of lies against us until she was shut down by a police investigation.
What all of this points to is the need for extra vigilance by the entire country and for ethics in politics. While nobody expects an election campaign to be a walk in the park, we do expect those who aspire to high public office to be guided by fairness, decency and the public good. A toxic environment in which no one is trusted cannot be in the public interest. Once opened, we might discover that Pandora’s box of political mischief cannot be closed again.