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Good governance or ethnic politics?

By Mariano Browne

Several commentators continue to say that TT political parties are dominated by race and that political parties revolve around these polarities. As United National Congress (UNC) Chairman, Jack Warner is at least consistent in his attempt to portray the PNM as primarily a black party. Consistent and at the same time irrelevant. It is already well known that the UNC is a Hindu centric party as distinct from an " East Indian" party whose support base is in the Central and southern regions. Likewise that the People's National Movement (PNM) is largely urban based as distinct from black. But since we all know that, what does he gain by repeating the obvious?

One obvious reason would be to detract from the weakness of his personal position. That he is isolated and stands alone, waiting for and actually courting the inevitable. Another possibility, is that he wishes to remind the country that the PNM was decimated in the last election or alternatively, that it should be dead and buried. That he needs to constantly remind himself and the public is a clear indication that this is not the truth. As a Roman general once said, the victor is not a victor if the vanquished do not agree.

These broad generalisations about race in politics miss the point which is there for all to see. A review of the election results since 1986 provide a clear rebuttal of this argument. The overwhelming defeat of the PNM in 1986, 33-3, had little to do with race. Such an overwhelming victory was a clearly a manifestation of a broad consensus that crossed all spectrums. Yet a mere five years later, the experiment had ended and the PNM was back in office.

In 1995, notwithstanding massive philosophical changes by the PNM, the electorate was split and the UNC took office in a political compromise with Tobago. In 2000 that compromise held, but in one short year the UNC fell apart. The 2001 elections resulted in a deadlock that was ended only by presidential "judgment". The 2002 election saw a continuation of the trend of 1995-2001 with a small victory for the PNM which widened in 2007 with the rise of the Congress of the People. The election of 2010 saw a modification of the 1986 experiment.

What all elections have shown since 1986 is the increasing importance of a middle ground, where race is less influential. The one clear and consistent message that keeps coming across is that the public wants better government and better governance. The ranks of the uncommitted have swelled as the population has grown younger.

Many of our young people don't even know who Dr Eric Williams or Dr Rudranth Capildeo were. Like investors, they are not interested in the past glories of the PNM ( no other party that has that longevity). They are interested in the future and how the policies of today will shape that future.

In this context, whilst it's easy to speak of absolutes as embodied in the concept of tribal politics, the clearly emergent trend is that the public wants better delivery at every level. Put another way, the public knows what it does not want and is searching, groping for a choice other than the least bad alternative. Sunity Maharaj captures that in her articles by using the term coined by Lloyd Best "none of the above". That is the clear message of the marches occasioned by the Section 34.

Where political commentators a la Warner and Sat see race, they miss the broader, deeper meaning of discontent with the style and method of government. It is not merely about this latest mistake or misstep, but the seemingly endless continuum of messy situations that have come to characterise this administration. Section 34 may yet be a watershed or a tipping point that will define the incapacities of this administration.

Rather than articulate a broad vision about how the government will deal with the serious existential issues that face the country and the steps necessary to address these problems, what we get are constant reminders about what the PNM did or did not do. In this context, the slogan "serve the people, serve the people" is nothing more than empty rhetoric as there is no clear strategy commensurate with the task.

What we are experiencing is government by propaganda and a cheap form of populism as evidenced by the adoption of Keshorn Walcott's Olympic victory. What about the other athletes and the policies so necessary to move our sport and the country forward? How exactly do these reconcile with the savage dismantling of the ambitious programmes started at UTT by the previous regime? How indeed is the relative success of qualifying for the World Cup in 2006 to be compared and contrasted with the absolute contempt shown not only to the players and the football fraternity, but also to the court, by refusing to comply with the court order to produce the financial records and to pay the players?

We are a long way from better government as demanded by the 2010 election result. Perhaps these words from the "King and I" best describe Mr Warner's approach: "Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect that I am afraid". The result of that deception is that, so far, only Mr. Warner is fooled.

*Mariano Browne is a former

government minister.

— Winford James's column will

return next week.

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