At last Friday's election of a President, Trinidad and Tobago was looking forward to the rare eventuality of a process untroubled by the spectre of partisan bickering, boycott or sour withholding of endorsement. That this was not to be at the Electoral College's elevation of Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona remains to the singular discredit of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley.
Immediately upon his nomination by the Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar and 11 Government MPs, former justice Carmona showed as an inspired choice. Favourable sentiment toward him was given voice across the political and other lines that divide T&T.
Dr Rowley had recommended another judicial figure in Rolston Nelson of the Caribbean Court of Justice. The PNM leader, lacking the votes to trigger a Carmona-Nelson run-off, went along with the Government's nominee.
The stage was set on Friday for an untroubled exercise of statecraft, freely shared by all sides in the Parliament. It was a promise of a respite longed for by T&T sensibilities, battered by divisiveness, spite and accusatory fulminations.
Expectations proved to have been too high for an exemplary instance of seemly behaviour, suitable for the guidance of a beleaguered T&T youth deprived of role models.
Just when it was being imagined that the election of Justice Carmona would be hailed by Government and Opposition leaders, Dr Rowley claimed to find fault with the arrangements, and pulled the plug on such a presentation. If, somehow, completion of the formalities for the Carmona election was to reflect positively on the ruling administration, Dr Rowley determined to claw back something, by making headlines, for the Opposition interest.
He decided not to speak at the historic Electoral College convocation. Though the Opposition earlier favoured (or did not disfavour) President-elect Carmona, nothing will show on the Hansard record where Dr Rowley's party stood.
The Opposition Leader made a big deal of the requirement by Speaker Wade Mark, constitutional convenor of the Electoral College, for his statement to be supplied beforehand. Unable to resist bringing street-level politics into this Electoral College sitting, Dr Rowley accused the Speaker of wanting to "censor, monitor and vet" his remarks.
"I am not submitting anything to the Parliament for vetting by Wade Mark," he said, personalising resentment of requirements applying to preserve the non-political character of the Electoral College.
Did Dr Rowley really submit to the base fear that Speaker Mark would correct his grammar or polish the rhetorical style of his pronouncements? In the real world, he retains unlimited opportunity, in and out of the House, to deliver himself. Which Speaker would dare interfere with the content of his address, knowing the later retaliatory animus for "censorship"?
The Opposition Leader may have won something for his politics, but he gained nothing for his standing as a statesman.