Much of the dust of Friday's Port of Spain anti-government march is sure to settle across the waters on the island of Tobago, where the tempo is rising for an electoral contest. "The troops are gathering in Tobago," PNM Leader Keith Rowley declared to the party's Queen's Park Savannah convention last Sunday.
Tobago has since commanded an unusual share of the spotlight. On Friday, THA Chief Secretary Orville London disclosed that a 500-strong† contingent had accompanied him to swell the PNM ranks in the capital-city march, and also to boost the Tobago profile.
With the decks cleared in Tobago, Mr London is sure to lose no opportunity to perform on the big national stage in Trinidad. At Friday's rally of all the forces ranged against the People's Partnership administration, the THA chief advertised common cause with more than the minimum demand for removal of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and National Security Minister Jack Warner.
"Trinidad is saying, 'they must go!', while Tobago is saying, 'they must not come'," he said. Fighting the Port of Spain government is the same engagement as resisting the challenge of the THA minority, Tobago Organisation of the People, an element in good standing of the People's Partnership.
In the battle lines now drawn, a chieftain's position has been reserved for Tobago-born Dr Rowley. After assuring Tobagonians they can count on him, he said on Sunday: "I, as political leader, do hereby now further declare that the battle to rescue and save our country is on."
The struggle for the THA, thereby assumes a larger significance, if only as a first-strike exercise in the wider conflict between Kamla Persad-Bissessar's People's Partnership and its adversaries, old and new.†
After 12 years in office, the London THA has a lot to answer for regarding false starts in Tobago's development, plus disadvantage of the "Them-again!" fatigue factor. The THA has sought to wrap itself in the flag of Tobago's aspirations for autonomy within T&T. Its own project for self-government is, however, unlikely to advance to realisation over that proposed by the ruling administration.
Meanwhile, the TOP, which had made impressive advances in the last THA elections, should be coming re-energised to the looming test of electoral strength, with the assurance of central government support. Among other things, near-term constitutional advance for Tobago appears to be a prospect only with a TOP-led THA.
Contention will thus be keen, giving rise to concern about adherence to rules of engagement. A Tobago News editorial last week lamented that "the Tobago political culture is degenerating to a level of pure hate and spite". It urged upon all contenders due restraint and seemly behaviour.† Both in Tobago and in Trinidad, this is a timely admonition well worthy of endorsement.