Monday, February 19, 2018

Hang Jack


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And so, the dance of disengagement has begun. The Tobago watershed has become the line in the sand of the political partnership between Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Jack Warner.

Of all the things Warner might stand accused of in the eyes of public opinion, the one that his political leader will not forgive is the humiliating loss in Tobago.

As in 2010, the 2013 deal would surely have required him to deliver victory- by whatever means necessary- in exchange for continued enjoyment of the maximum leader's support, protection and a share in her authority. But then he went and lost Tobago.

Watch now, therefore, as the script begins to shift.

Unfortunately for Warner, the chips are mostly all on her side, delivered, as he must already be discovering to his chagrin, by his own hands.

She had been his third choice, behind Panday and Dookeran. Perhaps even fourth if Ramesh Maharaj is included.

But of them all, she was to bring him his greatest glory in enthroning him on the right hand of power. Foolishly, however, he mistook her for a blank canvas on which to paint his dreams, her open smiling face a perfect foil to his own public profile of bold-faced cantankerousness. Like all her rivals, he underestimated the survival skills that had kept her afloat in the turbulent waters around Basdeo Panday in which so many other political lives were lost. No mean feat that.

But most of all, he discounted the power of the prime minister in the West Indian variant of Westminster, which rises to its maximum height by co-opting the power of those in its shade, even as it remains primus inter pares, apart from and above all.

In January 2010, when Kamla Persad-Bissessar entered an alliance with Jack Warner to dislodge Basdeo Panday as leader of the United National Congress, she would have calculated the risk involved in mounting a tiger she knew only too well.

Sensing her moment, she put aside their past and closed her mind to the future, focused only on the task of defeating Panday and, then, Manning, leaving the problems of tomorrow for tomorrow. Like complementary designs cut from the same political cloth, the Persad-Bissessar/Warner partnership worked well because each brought what the other lacked, even as they shared the same political values.

In Tobago, on January 21, the dreaded tomorrow arrived. In the war room in Cove Estate, as the THA votes rolled in, the KPB-Warner alliance fell apart, victim to a tectonic shift of power in the inner sanctum of the UNC administration.

Reflected on Persad-Bissessar's face was not merely the defeat in Tobago but the instinctive realisation that the moment had arrived to dismount the tiger.

And so, the dance of disengagement has begun, cautiously and with the potential to develop dangerously.

For the rest of us, this is a moment for alertness.

Whether we support the administration or not, the implications of a fall-out between these protagonists could be enormous-even devastating.

It all depends.

Jack Warner is no ordinary opponent and in a country where politics has a morality of its own, as repeatedly demonstrated by both, anything could become possible.

Like the head of the grounded "Flying Squad", Jack Warner may believe he holds some trumps but, in his anxiety to live up to the hype of his Action Man reputation and keep his PM's favour, he may have left too many flanks exposed.

Examining Warner's trail, who could rule out the possibility that this Minister of National Security could wake up one day to find himself and his trumps silenced by law?

With sections of public opinion calling for Warner's head, the PM's ratings in sharp descent, and now Tobago standing between them, political minds may be calculating how to dismount the tiger and lasso it at the same time.

This is, after all, an administration that is inclined to look to the law to solve political problems.

In the politics of Trinidad and Tobago, where a Speaker has been placed under house arrest, where we breezed into a coup one easy Friday evening and bungled our way into a state of emergency one clear Sunday night, today's impossibility could easily become tomorrow's reality.

With our institutions still immature and too weak to protect the State, it will fall to public opinion to rein in the excesses of power and keep it in check. Responsible citizenship requires us to be alert, involved and informed in finding our voice to speak our truth- clearly, responsibly and without fear.

The time is now to kick our colonial habit of enjoying politics as a spectator sport, cheering from the sidelines as our country hurtles to the brink, as if this were still somebody else's country.

Perhaps, the reason we can't find the "Leader Ship" is because we are not looking at ourselves, which is where leadership begins. Ultimately, governments are merely an extension of us. As much as they disappoint us, our governments are the men-and women-in the mirror who reveal more about ourselves than we might be willing to admit to.

Our carelessness is costing us time, serious money and, most heart-breaking of all, generations of endeavour. We now run the serious risk that, by the time we come to grips with our situation, we might be out of time, money and even talent.

We are not alone in this. All over the Caribbean-and indeed the world-the search is on for a more functional political system that offers greater representation of individuals and interests.

A certain restlessness has taken hold of us, leaving us unfulfilled in exercising our right to choose where choice seems almost non-existent.

Last week, voters in Grenada expressed their complete impatience by voting out Tillman Thomas' party without reservation, even if it meant bringing back Keith Mitchell's once discarded NNP. Up the road, the Barbadians had arrived at the point of near deadlock that we hit in 2001.

Increasingly, the theme is None of The Above.

In the coming weeks, as political giants square off and the mind games begin, we will need to be more clear than ever on what constitutes our own interest.