Friday, February 23, 2018

A better option for our country

politicians can ignore at their peril the ideas expressed in Michael Harris's Express article of November 12 headlined, "Dr Rowley's coalitional gambit".

Basically Mr Harris analysed the electoral landscape into three constituencies: the Indos, the Afros and the others who I would name the third constituency (TC). He discussed the history of permutations of these three constituencies and the fascinating implications for the PNM should they change their strategy from "win alone lose alone".

What differentiates this TC from the other two? Firstly, it is not geographic in its concentration, unlike the other two constituencies which can be easily identified on the electoral map as "sure" Indo constituencies and "sure" Afro constituencies.

The TC is dispersed widely over the country. The consequence of this is that in the "first past the post" electoral system the TC finds it difficult to win a seat although it might get a substantial percentage of the votes a serious blot on our representative system of government. In the 1981 election it received more votes than the ULF but "not a damned seat for them" was their reward. This experience was repeated in the 2007 election when they obtained almost 150,000 votes.

Secondly, the supporters of this constituency belong to the middle class; that is to say their income levels are above the norm and so is their level of education. They are thinking citizens who have come to the conclusion that the future of this country does not lie in continued ethnic politics. These citizens believe that alternating Indo or Afro turns of access to the Treasury will not solve the country's problems.

Thirdly, this constituency provides a ready haven for the increasing numbers of citizens of mixed race in the society. At present mixed citizens as a percentage of population exceed 20 per cent.

Fourthly, this constituency, the TC, expects from its political representatives a different political paradigm. They expect accountability and integrity in the management of the economic, social and political affairs of the country. For example, at the presentation of each budget they would like a progress report on the activities of the previous year, reasons for material shortfalls on programmes and solutions for them, the challenges to be addressed and the plans to address them. In terms of integrity they would like to see policies and processes in place for the regulation of expenditures and other state activities; appropriate sanctions for non-adherence thereof. Institutions such as the Tenders Board should not be castrated. State enterprises should justify their existence by the value they add to the state's welfare. Those not adding value should be disbanded.

The expectations of the TC are high. While this constituency has been growing since the 1950s I can think of only two leaders who were embraced by it: Karl Hudson-Phillips in 1980 and Winston Dookeran in 2007.

With the collapse of the NAR in the early 1990's this constituency expected Mr Dookeran to provide leadership. Now that he has departed what's next?

The new leader must have the qualities and force of personality to mobilise this constituency. In the absence of proportional representation this constituency can achieve political representation only by forming an alliance with one or other of the traditional political parties. Such alliance also has its pitfalls. To what extent would deals reached before the election remain binding after the election? To what extent could elected representatives betray their party "by crossing the floor?"

To what extent would the PNM be willing to change their political character and strategies to accommodate the TC? Now that the PNM is opening up to the possibility of alliances the constituency of the TC is there to be wooed by either the PNM or the UNC. An additional suitor could make all the difference. A successful alliance either way could make for healthier politics. It has the potential to change the political paradigm for the better.

J Siewrattan

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