Since last Monday, I will admit, I have been “toting” fears about a possible downside to the results of the local government elections.
Those fears flashed through my mind in the late evening when it was clear that the PNM had won eight regional corporations, captured the popular vote, and that UNC had been reduced to its heartland base.
I found myself focusing not on the PNM victory, but on the UNC’s humiliation, its fall-off from its 2010 triumph, and what this could mean for T&T in the months leading up to the 2015 general elections.
In the face of electoral disaster a spirited Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar appeared on television singing to her party’s faithful, attempting to spin her party’s defeat into “a people’s victory”.
Thanking them for returning the UNC’s heartland back into the party fold, she said: “God has been good to us. He does not wear pyjamas.”
Then attempting to mollify their disappointment, she added: “The greatest challenge was in Chaguanas. Guess what: we did not lose. Seeing those results this evening we have held our base in all of our areas.”
That base the late Lloyd Best once described as the “plantation”, which he saw as attempting a general dominance on the “port”.
The attempts crept increasingly through the bureaucracy and the professions, and when combined, as columnist Selwyn Ryan has observed, with control in certain economic sectors and the political system and a search for cultural space, they have resulted, since 1995, in a fundamental shift in the ethnic basis of power—the creation a new hegemony.
Historically, the base chanted the mantra that it had been victimised, marginalised, and alienated by the Afro-creole-dominated system and successive “wicked” PNM governments.
The first government of 1995 ended with the stigma of corruption, the smell of the billion-dollar airport scandal still lingering throughout our legal system. This has caused many to question—certainly unfairly—the moral compass of the base.
In frustration, many in the “port” have asked further whether the compass was calibrated to benefit only the base’s kleptocracy, their families and party faithful—never the national good.
Had there been any doubt that the People’s Partnership had wolfed the inter-racial goodwill of 2010, or what to some was “a people’s victory”, they were removed last week.
So what are my fears about?
I have been speculating, maybe wildly, about defeats and retreats. Faced with such humiliation governments, in retreat, are known to demonstrate all kinds of distorted political behaviour.
In extreme the most wretched of retreats in modern times involved the “scorched earth” strategy, i.e. making every resource that could be used by your opponents inoperable.
Japan, in the Sino-Japanese war, adopted a military strategy called “Three Alls”: its forces destroyed all food, industries, transportation systems, etc. as they retreated.
In 1941, Russia adopted the same tactic against the Germans. In turn, the Germans suffering the humiliation of that Russian invasion, instructed their forces to destroy all food supplies and every town as they left. The Americans more recently have been guilty of similar atrocities in Vietnam.
In war “scorched earth” is an extreme strategy, but in the daily cut and thrust of politics its measures are known to be imposed by politicians rather tactfully.
Should we further scrutinise the Partnership Government as it retreats to base? The Prime Minister, according to reports, is not prepared to occupy the official residence in St Ann’s, opting instead for her home in Phillipine.
Already she has undertaken the development of numerous projects in her personal Siparia/Penal/Debe base. For instance, the construction of the $1 billion law faculty, extended recently, according to Minister Fazal Karim, to be “a university” for the students of the area’s 13 secondary schools.
Design plans have already been prepared for the PM’s vanity project, the controversial $1 billion Penal hospital.
Further, she proposes for the area—a three-storey library; an international sporting complex to accommodate football and cricket, alongside a cycling velodrome; a Siparia cultural complex, dedicated to the late Daisy Voisin; a high court; a technical-vocational centre; a Siparia regional complex set on 20 acres; and a work force and development centre.
Nedco, the State agency which promotes small business development, has been instructed to strengthen its loan facilities in the catchment area.
In addition, PURE, the executing arm of the Ministry of Works, has already laid down, under former minister Jack Warner, over $100 million in roads which are to be linked to the controversial Point Fortin Highway.
Officially, this is labelled “a decentralisation thrust”, but in the face of the retreat, some observers see it as the new hegemony strengthening the infrastructure of the base, as it retreats home.
What’s next? A leadership in retreat, that’s my fear.
• Keith Subero, a former
Express news editor, has since followed a career in
communication and management