Which of our political personalities should this column name as its personality of the year?
Our short list consists of three persons who have affected the political environment most, for better or worse were Jack Warner, Keith Rowley and Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Let us first look at the performance of the Prime Minister. There continued to be controversy as to whether she was fit to govern whether physically or psychologically, whether her Government was indeed led by a nefarious cabal, whether her policies were meeting the basic needs and expectations of the citizenry in general or women and children in particular, whether a dent was really being made in the incidence of serious crime, corruption, management of the state sector, to name but a few high-value issues taken either singly or collectively.
There were also continuing questions as to whether she consumed more alcohol than was appropriate.
Many were unhappy with her Cabinet choices and also with their performances generally.
Most agreed that Jack Warner was the best performer, and Kamla herself deemed him her right hand man. He stole the show and others seemed to be envious of his attractiveness to the media.
The results of the by-election in Chaguanas West confirmed that Kamla was widely written off by many as having been a failure. Her defeat was humiliating, and reportedly brought tears to her eyes.
The United National Congress (UNC) was also smashed in the local government elections, but for Kamla the results in Felicity, Chaguanas, were nevertheless a cause for great joy.
Much to the surprise and puzzlement of many, Kamla declared that her party did not lose. Everyone had won! What was perhaps more important, she had won back the Hindu heartland and in her mind, she had also defeated Jack Warner, her nemesis.
After a period of just a few weeks (following the Chaguanas West), to go back into Felicity and wrest it from Jack Warner, was is in fact quite an achievement.”
The question is whether the October defeat and her inebriation on the platform erased the July defeat. Dr Rowley thought not. As he moaned, “As a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. I saw the Prime Minister on election night and she was an embarrassment...Her conduct was unbecoming of the office she holds and this country had better take note when we treat office like that.” (Express October 25, 2013).
Jack Warner was also scathing. He called her a “giddy head ma’am” who was punch-drunk and blinded to reality and the pains of defeat. This was a facade of false courage (Express, November 1, 2013).
The comments of former NCB banker Philip Rochford were interesting. Rochford argued that the Prime Minister drank because of the environment in which she hung out. She had become alcohol dependant.
As he wrote, “The reality is that in no way could she have led the men in her political party if she did not ‘knock’ a glass of alcohol with them.”
The Prime Minister had strong competition from Keith Rowley for personality of the year. The latter’s achievement was to win three pivotal elections against the might of the UNC. At the end of the year, Rowley had put the People’s National Movement (PNM) in contention for the 2015 election, notwithstanding the rumbling in the party.The PNM now controlled eight regional corporations whereas before it controlled a mere three. The PNM had won all the seats in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election. Rowley had help, but there is no denying that the victory was largely his doing.
Jack’s achievements over the year were many and varied. In some cases his performance was heroic. In some instances, it was a case of “From Hero to Zero”.
His greatest achievement was his success in demolishing the old binary-party system which in the past was essentially an ethnic battle driven by rivalry between Afro and Indo citizens.
In a period of a mere four months, he showed that ethnic-based party rivalry was not eternal and that citizens were willing to vote along lines other than race.
The electorate’s voting behaviour indicated that if parties and parliamentarians were more responsible, transparent and accountable, citizens might be willing to vote along other cleavages. Another of Jack’s achievements was to force parties to take the business of “representation” and reciprocal obligation seriously. He not only raised the bar in terms of what citizens believe they are entitled to.
They also showed that a black leader could prevail significantly in an Indo-dominant constituency.
We are of course aware that many Indo-citizens did not sustain their dissent and either stayed home or went back to base, gladdening the heart of the Prime Minister in the process. We are likewise aware that the green of spring has since been replaced by the brown of autumn. We however wait to see whether notwithstanding all the dirty water that has flown behind the bridge, the new Independent Liberal Party (ILP) would ally with the old reconstructed UNC, or whether some other alliance would subsume it.
We do not of course know all the political unknowns that lie ahead, but for what he has been able to achieve over the past 12 months, we name Jack Warner: political personality of the year.