Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Reflections on political changes


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A NATIONAL holiday in Barbados yesterday afforded me the opportunity to reflect on a few current political developments of relevance as T&T prepares for Carnival 2013 and loses no sweat over domestic party politicking; after all, it's the official season for fun and frolic.

First, the understandable jubilation by Tobagonians over achieving a stunning, historic clean sweep of the 12 seats in the People's National Movement-controlled Tobago House of Assembly that the incumbent has dominated for a dozen years.

That landslide victory would come as a shock to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her Port of Spain-based People's Partnership Government, currently in the third year of its first-term administration.

After all, she had invested so much money and goodwill in support of the main challenger— Tobago Organisation of People (TOP)—only to be left to face the shock of a wipe-out, with none more battered than he who is now destined to remove himself from the top of TOP — Ashworth Jack.

The "house'' that this Jack built—and which was the focus of so much of the "bobol'' campaign talk—came crashing down on Monday's election and left Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar quoting, for comfort, lines from the internationally famous poet Maya Angelou: "While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated…"

The Prime Minister was stoic in her assessment of the outcome and offered quite a mature and realistic response in losing no time to reassure the long-serving Chief Secretary of the THA and PNM stalwart, Orville London, of her Government's commitment of cooperation in the interest of the island's development.

For his part, PNM leader Keith Rowley was quick to recognise the energising message of the electorate's verdict: "Tobago has once again lit the candle for Trinidad…"

Rowley's optimism must also take into consideration the reality that in party politics all things are possible and a week in politics could be a pretty long time. In the current political scenario in T&T, a constitutionally due parliamentary election is more than two years away and counting.

Writing in his Express column last Sunday, the very experienced Reginald Dumas noted what could not have escaped the thinking of the Prime Minister and leader of the United National Congress (dominant partner of her coalition administration): "This election," he observed, "isn't merely about the THA; it's a national referendum…"

While Tobagonians were voting on Monday and the people of Nevis (sister isle of St Kitts) were preparing to do the same yesterday, Barbadians were celebrating their annual January 21 national holiday that commemorates the life and times of National Hero, Errol Walton Barrow ("Father of Independence'').

The outcome of yesterday's poll could well create some new problems for Prime Minister Douglas' shaky administration in Basseterre.

In Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who heads a first-time DLP administration, seems sufficiently determined to impose his brand of leadership by stubbornly refusing to name the date for a new general election.

This was expected to be done prior to the passing last January 15 of the fifth anniversary of the election that brought the DLP to power.

Stuart has defied not only calls for such a date from the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) but has also been sneering at media commentators, reminding all and sundry that naming the election date "is my call".

And so it is. But this "right" could come with a political cost to be determined by the electorate whenever they trek to the polling booths some time next month.

As this column was being written, there was speculation that Prime Minister Stuart could well announce his "E-day'' during yesterday's sitting of Parliament.

Polls and political pundits continue to predict a return to power of former three-term prime minister Owen Arthur's BLP. However, there were straws in the wind concerning a recently invigorated DLP base that appears not to be ready to break with a historical pattern of giving an incumbent party a second chance. Such a trend perhaps helps to explain the refusal of Prime Minister Stuart to genuflect to criticism over his failure to name the election date.

On Monday, Errol Barrow Day, he was urging supporters at the DLP headquarters to "ready yourselves…you will be hearing from me very shortly…" He maintains a public posture that scoffs at the idea that the coming election could well break with the tradition of restricting an incumbent party to just one term.