Sliding on a coconut branch
As an elementary school boy at Belle Garden AC, one of the games I played with my peers was ‘slewing on a coconut head’ — a shorter way of saying ‘slewing down on a coconut branch’. There were — there still are — a little hill at the back of the school and a not-too-wide gully running alongside the school at the bottom of the hill. The hill was a playground, with enough space at the top for a cricket pitch, and the hill ran down to the gully for 40 to 50 yards. We boys (and sometimes a few girls) would slew down the incline on the whole of a coconut branch, straddling it by its head, or on the head of the branch only (minus the branchy part). The aim of the game was to race against each other as fast as possible to the edge of the hill where it fell away into the gully, and then get off before the head dropped in the gully.
It was a heady game, and not a few of us, especially the novices, lost the seat of our pants and skin from our rumps, landed in the gully, or had to jump over the gully. On a given day, we would make multiple trips, picking ourselves up and having a go at it again even when badly wounded, and heading home shamefacedly when we lost too much of our pants. (In those days, you see, there was no such thing as briefs or jockey shorts, and boys did not wear sliders.)
The third electoral loss of the ruling People’s Partnership brought back memories of my slewing days. They have lost the Tobago House of Assembly elections — comprehensively to the PNM. They have lost the Chaguanas West by-election — comprehensively to Jack Warner and his ILP. And they have now lost the local government elections — to the PNM again, though not comprehensively this time. Three losses in a row. And there is still the St Joseph by-election to come.
They are slewing down a hill on an uncontrollable coconut head, and it seems they will end up in the gully. The slope in this case is much longer and steeper, the gully is far wider, and the coconut head has become badly frayed, so there will be weeping and gnashing of remaining teeth… .
It is possible for them to stave off defeat in the St Joseph by-election, but highly unlikely — for at least four reasons. First, they are on a losing trend. They might argue that a reversal of fortunes is occurring given the UNC’s maintenance of its hold on all but one of its traditional constituencies — Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo, Mayaro/Rio Claro, Penal/Debe, Princes Town, and Siparia — and that this reversal will hold in the case of St Joseph. Indeed, they are celebrating victory in the local government elections! But St Joseph is not one of their strongholds and has never been; they won it with Volney on the heady promise of inclusive government from the crusading Partnership. It is therefore a different kettle of fish.
Second, the momentum is with the PNM; they are on a roll. Tobago. Chaguanas West. Local government elections. In the last named, they have moved from three corporations to eight, possibly nine and, in the process, made inroads where they had not before. St Joseph has been ‘marginal’ and in favour of them over the years. The opinion polls are encouraging. So on what basis will the momentum weaken?
Third, the voters are likely to be emboldened to come out and vote for the PNM now that the local government elections have cleared up the political landscape and shown where most voters are headed. Victory has a way of being infectious, and people have a way of gravitating to winners. The winners in this case are the PNM. What, therefore, is there to cause voters to go back to the UNC? Certainly not the tenuous quality of Ian Alleyne? Certainly not the Partnership’s dismal and disrespectful record of misgovernance?
The final reason why it is unlikely that the UNC will win St Joseph is the UNC-disruptive presence of the ILP in the contest. As it has done in the local government elections, this party will snag votes that most likely would have gone to the Partnership had the latter remained whole, facilitating the PNM’s march to victory… unless prospective Partnership voters, or brand-new prospective ILP voters, construe the ILP’s failed bid in those elections as a message to try to avoid wasting their votes and decide to stay with, or transfer to, the UNC. In the absence of updated polls surveying how the St Joseph electorate are thinking, we cannot know for sure but, with the UNC hurtling down the hill to apparently unstoppable self-destruction, it is not unreasonable to expect a PNM victory.
So why can’t the Partnership stop their slide? Every Monday morning, it seems, there is a new scandal about corruption and waste of one type or another on the part of Government officials. Further, there is an unsuppressible panic in the hierarchy that steals the UNC’s confidence and makes them say and do the strangest things. Like Persad-Bissessar saying they won the local government elections or, at least, did not lose them. Or her saying that the proof that her party has not lost is that she is still the Prime Minister of the country.
Note again, as in the case of the Chaguanas West defeat, this obsession with being prime minister. I tell you, they are sliding downhill to the yawning gully on a coconut head…