Friday, February 23, 2018

PNM's Tobago challenge


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Despite his party's heady victory in Tobago, the political leader of the People's National Movement (PNM), Dr Keith Rowley, has been quick to recognise the challenging implications of 12-0 control of the Tobago House of Assembly.

In warning that total victory may not necessarily be the best thing for Tobago, Dr Rowley was giving tacit acknowledgement to the fact that total power has the potential to breed a dangerous complacency and overbearing self-righteousness.

When it stops the crowing over its red wash of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), the PNM should start thinking about how it intends to ensure that it hears the voice of Tobagonians above its own.

This is a tall order for politicians who generally love nothing better than to hear their own voices and to surround themselves with sycophants.

This, in fact, is the experience with which we are most familiar, even from politicians who have come to office with the slimmest of majorities.

Nobody would understand that better than the defeated TOP leader Ashworth Jack. In the general election of May 2010, his TOP inflicted a comprehensive yellow wash on the PNM only to see its popularity dissipate on Monday, just two and a half years later.

Among the most dramatic examples of the danger of complacency on a party's political fortunes is the National Alliance for Reconstruction which, in the space of one term, saw its 33-3 victory evaporate into thin air.

The great danger that faces Tobago after Monday's THA elections is the vacuum that has been created by the decimation of the TOP from the House of Assembly. It is a truism that power abhors a vacuum. One way or the other, it will find a way to assert itself. In some countries, this translates into instability as minority voices seek alternative fora of expression while competing interests jostle to fill the void.

In the unfolding environment, it is important that the terms for full and democratic engagement between the PNM-controlled THA and the wider population be set early.

Monday's high voter turn-out suggests that this election has politicised a whole new generation of Tobagonians and brought them into the national process. This is a great development which should be rewarded with increased participation and opportunities to keep them engaged in the affairs of their country. The big mistake would be for them to be shut out of the process of government.

If the politicians fail to respond to the needs of these new and highly activated citizens, they will pay a very heavy price in the future.

In dramatic fashion on Monday, Tobagonians took matters into their own hands and clearly signalled their disagreement with their role in the relationship with the party in central government. In the months to come, Orville London and his team will be left in no doubt about how Tobagonians feel about their role in the relationship with the THA.