Friday, December 15, 2017

Oh, Tee O Pee, what can the matter be?

As I observed in my last column, polls are the best predictive tool of the outcome of elections, and it turned out that the one that, two weeks beforehand, projected that the People's National Movement (PNM) would win the 2013 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections 11-1 was right; and I suspect that if the pollsters had done a follow-up poll in the last week, they would have nailed it with a 12-0 prediction. It's now history that the PNM annihilated the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) with a clean sweep of the seats, winning by big margins in the process, and one of the questions to be answered is, how could this have happened?

How could Robinson's party—formerly, DAC and NAR, now going by the name TOP—have lost to the PNM four straight times? And so comprehensively this latest time?

The elections were the TOP's to win. The incumbent PNM had been in power for 12 long, consecutive years and were perceived, by the TOP at least, as having squandered the opportunity of "billions of dollars'' to develop Tobago transformatively. The TOP were an integral part of the national government of the People's Partnership and had access to state privileges and resources, could not be held responsible for any development problems that Tobago might have, had access to unprecedented levels of funding—particularly from United National Congress (UNC) financiers—for their electioneering, and had energy to burn.

So what went wrong?

Could it be that the electorate were abundantly impressed by the PNM's performance over the last four years? Hardly. Even PNM supporters, while recognising that there were gains in areas like works and infrastructure, housing and community development were nervous about underperformance in job creation, tourism, health services, education, the completion of very old projects and economic expansion. That being the case, why would so many independents join the PNM supporters and give the party victory by such big margins?

Could it be that the TOP underestimated the value of their association with the UNC et al and the disaffection that that association would create in Tobagonians? The association brought positives like ministerial (including Cabinet) positions of TOP MPs and other people, membership of TOP people on State boards and committees, government projects in the two TOP-held constituencies, and high visibility and privileging of TOP leader Ashworth Jack.

It also brought a litany of frequent, facilely adversarial, unconscionable, abusive and self-serving actions from the government—like (i) passing and repeal of the egregious Section 34; (ii) use of a state of emergency to fight crime, resulting in the unprosecutable arrests of hundreds of mostly Afro youth; (iii) the underhand, narcissistic award of contracts; (iv) unprecedented levels of ethnic stocking and ethnic disemployment; (v) the appointment of the woefully unqualified Reshmi Ramnarine to the headship of a national security agency; (vi) institution of a five per cent ceiling in wage negotiations (vexing labour out of the Partnership); (vii) the elevation of the controversy-shrouded Jack Warner to the supersensitive post of Minister of National Security; (viii) the award of a million-dollar severance package to Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs and Deputy Commissioner Jack Ewatski even though they had voluntarily resigned from their jobs; (ix) a variety of confrontational and disrespectful acts against the PNM-led THA; and (x) the laying of a constitution reform bill for Tobago that would absurdly make Tobago a colony of Trinidad (and Tobago).

These and similar actions have lost them considerable goodwill, not only in Trinidad but also in Tobago. They are not actions that were perpetrated by the TOP per se but rather by the People's Partnership government of which they are a part but, since they were not disavowed by the TOP, they could therefore be considered to have been aided and abetted by them.

Perhaps the Tobagonian electorate were badly disaffected by these actions and wanted no part of a TOP so contaminated and compromised?

Could it be that the electorate turned from Ashworth Jack personally partly as a result of his inability to convincingly account for his sudden acquisition of ostentatious wealth, and the consequent damning perception that he was not his own man but the pliant puppet of the UNC and would "give away Tobago''?

Or could it be that the electorate did not care for how the Prime Minister took over the TOP campaign and how, in that campaign, she and the chameleon Jack Warner maligned and insulted two of their respected sons up and down the place?

Could it be that the TOP would have won if they had disentangled themselves from the Partnership and gone it alone?

Oh Tee O Pee, what can the matter be?

• Winford James is a uwi lecturer and a political analyst.