There is a great deal of anxiety in the public mind about our present political, economic and social circumstances. There is significant disagreement about the performance of our economy, open disagreement about what the serious crimes data tells us as to whether things are getting better, worse, or have remained more or less the same; there is uncertainty too as to who will be part of the government in the next few days. Also at issue is the relationship between Tobago and Trinidad.
What will the constitutional and political picture look like after December?
The same question relates to the MSJ and the Government? What is brewing within the PNM?
Is it indeed stealthily growing in strength?
Is there an ethnic power shift and a corresponding shift in the geography of political power taking place; if so, who is north of the Caroni and who is south of it?
In terms of the political system, the long postponed resolution of the Tobago –Trinidad dispute is finally coming to a head. There seems to be general agreement that self-government for Tobago is around the corner. It is also evident that there is no demand for independence being made by any group. There is, as there has always been the odd person who believes that Tobago should be independent, but there is little support for such demands. What I found during my own visits there on behalf of the Manning Round Table exercise was that there was support for some sort of federal arrangement in which there would be three constitutions or "pieces of paper"—one for Tobago, one for Trinidad, and one for Trinidad and Tobago. I have not had the time to return to the issue and thus could not say how strong or otherwise is the demand for a federal as opposed to a unitary state arrangement. One can however assume that the issues will be very hotly debated. One can only hope that the matter would be resolved in a manner that does not poison the relationships between the two islands, neither of which has anything to gain by political separation.
Turning next to the quarrel between the MSJ and the other partners in the coalition.
It is not very clear what political games are being played, but from where I sit, Abdulah, Roget et al must equivocally sever their relationship with the Government at midnight on June 19 as they asserted they would do... The only question is whether they will "jump" or allow the PM space to push them over the grave's edge. My own sense of what is decent is that they should formally withdraw from the Government and set about building the working class party which they claim is required by "history" at this stage of Trinidad's political development.
I am not however convinced that a separate working class party is what is called for by "history". Trinidad's demographic structure makes it unlikely that such a party could win power in the near future. The MSJ does not have the votes to capture power on its own or in conjunction with any other combination. The MSJ is essentially a classic pressure group and not an inclusive mass political party.
Also deserving comment is the announcement made by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar that she was planning to reshuffle her Cabinet "again". What was interesting and perhaps novel, was that she made the announcement and then advised that she had to consider her options further, and that the changes would be announced sometime after Labour day, June 19 the day on which the MSJ was scheduled to march and also make a big announcement about its future relationship with the coalition.
The UNC and the MSJ seem to be playing cat and mouse games with each other designed to determine who would blink first and who has bragging rights. The MSJ does not want to walk meekly out of the coalition while the Prime Minister does not want to make it appear that she is expelling Labour from the Senate by way of retaliation. She wants Abdulah to jump to perdition first.
Roget and Abdulah seem to be flummoxed ay Kamla's move which they blame on her "cabal". They however brushed it off as if it were irrelevant. As Abdulah whined, the PM could make the announcement on Emancipation Day or on Christmas Day, the outcome would be the same. Poor governance.
Whatever the calculations, the postponement has thrown the Government into a spin cycle. Ministers have all begun to scamper to demonstrate that they are delivering scarce goods to the people. There may well have been precedence for this sort of political indecision, but it does not seem to be a strategy that facilitates governmental orderliness. Everybody seems on edge. One wonders whether there would be further postponement because of the unfortunate circumstances that have attended the suspected death of Marlene Coudray's daughter, assuming that the mayor was to be offered a ministry.
The other matter on which I wish to comment is Prof Selwyn Cudjoe's assessment that notwithstanding the difficulties which it faces, the PNM is once more becoming competitive. Two questions arise. What is the empirical basis of the claim that Mr Manning is no longer a political albatross. My own judgement is that he still is, and that Dr Rowley and his team needs to put more distance between themselves and the Manning administration. They cannot continue to remain silent when improvidence such as we have seen recently in respect of the HCU and the water taxis is treated as being hypernormal. Shades of the MV Tobago! The bottom line is that, difficult as it is, the PNM has to find a way to choose between loyalty to Mr Manning and the past, or to Dr Rowley and the future. Somebody needs to play the role of the scapegoat and apologise on behalf of the tribe. Perhaps we need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission such as we have had in South Africa.
The final question, one which will evoke continuous controversy, has to do with the nature of the ethnic base of the Government. Prof Cudjoe might be correct in his view that what we have is a "thinly veiled Hindu Government" masquerading as a diverse multicultural multiface coalitional government. We however need more evidence to support that assertion which is not self evident. Is there indeed an invisible power shift which is Hindu based and which masks the Government? If so, is it conspiratorial and cabalistic or is it the result of a long time in the making demographic transition that is inexorable and in process at all levels of the society. How does one determine when the balance of power has reached a tipping point or has shifted comprehensibly and definitively from one group to another? Are we talking here about a "Hindu" power elite or an "Indian" power elite? Clearly they are not one and the same. What of the other denominational elements? Is the observed economic dominance hegemonic? i.e, is political, social and cultural control also evident?
In the meantime, we note Cudjoe's assurance that the PNM was "slowly taking care of its own business", and welcome his further assurance that notwithstanding its many public policy failures, the PNM would not fade from the public consciousness as some fear. We need to keep that consciousness alive going forward into the next jubilee. The political system does work better when we have at least two credible political parties.