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Playing political mas in Tobago

By Selwyn Ryan

The THA election has come and gone, leaving much behind that could reshape if not restructure our political behaviour and alignments. The outcome shocked many. It was also humiliating for those in the People's Partnership. Those who were planning to "invest" in Tobago must also have been chagrinned that their calculations went "gang aft aglay".

There has been much speculation as to who "won" or who "lost" the election.

UNC chairman Jack Warner was being very perverse when he argued that TOP did not "lose" the election because they had not been in power.

For Dr Rowley and the PNM, the answer to the question was pellucidly clear.

The election result not only gave the PNM bragging rights, was a "sign" that would confirm to skeptics and true believers that the PNM was "back".

Rowley himself was ecstatic. As he told the country, "Tobago provided the light to show the people the way. It was not just a Tobago victory; it was a turning point as the party prepared for the local government elections."

Rowley noted that many erstwhile prodigals in Trinidad had been "very nervous" about the outcome because they knew that much more than the sailing of the SS Calcutta depended on the right outcome.

Based on the number and concerns of those who sought my opinion, I would say that they were not only persons at the base who were looking for a plank on which to recross.

Among them were also those who had supported the coalition because they wanted change, or could not bear to vote for Manning and who now believe they had jumped from a coal pot fire into a gas accelerated fire.

But did the PNM really win the election or did the TOP lose it? Both were involved.

It has been claimed that Sandy's outburst was part of a centrally articulated PNM leadership strategy.

There is however no evidence that this was so.

It is however true that the matter of Trinidad's relationship with Tobago was the subject of whispers and discussions throughout Tobago.

Sandy would have been assured that his now historic remark would not hurt the PNM electorally in Tobago, whatever damage it might have done to his party's fortunes in Trinidad.

Those who really know Tobago were aware that many tribalised Tobagonians were sensitive about "strangers" and aliens invading their village turf.

These identities were all important, but stalwart Tobagonians make it clear that they are Tobagonians first and foremost.

Roots matter. One recalls Lloyd Best's division of Trinidad into nine tribes. Tobago was one of the nine as were the white French creoles, the Hindus,the Muslims et al.

Those who were demanding that Rowley should put pressure on Sandy to withdraw from the race were not aware that they were doing Sandy a favour by broadcasting his remarks, scoring an "own goal" in the process. It is however disingenuous on the part of the Partnership to ascribe their defeat to racism and tribalism, a term that is loosely used to deal with a multitude of attitudes and behaviour.

Many of us genuflect to race and tribe when the occasion warrants without being aware that we are behaving thus. We however do it most unequivocally when we vote. Instrumental issues are important, but for most, voting is the act that anchors the identity. It is a meta issue. Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar "got it" whereas Jack et al did not.

The role of Ashford Jack has also come in for serious scrutiny.

Jack must be a very disappointed man.

He clearly paid a high price for his seeming willingness to allow the Prime Minister and her advisors to run his campaign.

It is said that it was he who urged the Prime Minister to play such a central role in the election after he saw what the crowd's response to her was.

She was, it is said, minded to remain in the background, and only responded to the appeals of a coalition partner.

One however has problems with this explanation. Surely, Jack as a Tobagonian ought to have known that the Prime Minister was likely to suffer from political overexposure to strangers from Trinidad, particularly if they voiced strange political messages and brought shiny political gifts packaged by "experts".

They deeply resent having things done for them by Trinis. Leaders of Tobago's political parties are known to be sensitive to this xenophobic pattern of behaviour and try to discourage their leaders from making platform appearances. Manning and Chambers were among those whom platform managers wanted tried to hide.

Jack suffered in two other ways.

The explanations which he gave about how he acquired his new home were not credible.

They served to convince many that he would use his office as Chief Secretary to attract inappropriate investors from Trinidad, and that he could not be trusted. There was a belief that his house was a bequest and that the relationship would continue if he did become Chief Secretary. There was also a feeling among many Tobagonians that Jack lacked the status and the credentials to serve as Chief Secretary.

Tobagonians, it is said, are very snobbish about their leaders.

The PM in one of her addresses admitted that people had come to regard the election as a referendum and that the issues at stake were huge.

Strangely, they were told that Section 34 was not an issue for Tobago.

The real issue was which party could best govern Tobago and release it from "bondage".

Tobago was being liberated and given its freedom rally and Market Square would hereafter be known as Freedom Square.

Tobagonians did not seem to appreciate this benevolence.

There were however two referenda being determined — one that took place between the two Tobago parties about self-government exercise and a second which had to do with the nature of governance of the country as a whole and who was qualified or not capable of delivering it.

We will be discussing the latter in another column. For the time being, however, my conclusions are the following:

• The PNM won the election and TOP lost it. Both conclusions are correct.

• The PNM victory in Tobago was like a Mexican wave and has helped to consolidate the party.

• There are some who believe that the Sandy caper might cost the PNM some support. I however believe that those who have left the PNM for reasons having to do with race have maxed out long ago and have no plans to return soon.

• Two years is a long time in politics and much can happen going into 2015. The People's Partnership is at the bottom of the U curve and is presently in institutional shambles.

The coalition is however fragile.

• Section 36 is still unresolved. The PNM, on the other hand, is on a roll. It is however too early to predict outcomes. Outcomes would depend on levels of crime and corruption and leadership performance. As we are going, however, these may soon be regarded as lacking in political interest.

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