Politics in the twin state of Trinidad and Tobago has always been a carnival of strong personalities such as Messrs Uriah Butler, C L R James, George Padmore, Stokeley Camichael, Basdeo Panday and Dr. Eric Williams.
The democratic process has experienced some unusual events, including two attempted coups. The first in 1970 after black power demonstrations, and as recently as 1990 when members of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, led by Abu Bakr, captured Parliament and held the Government captive for six days before being granted amnesty.
The election of Jack Warner, an African-Trinidadian, in the predominantly Indian constituency of Chaguanas West, is not only unprecedented in that constituency but is an enigmatic event in a country where political parties and their supporters have been largely based on race.
Lest we be labelled as racist for saying this, we invite all readers to consult the numerous books by the distinguished Trinidadian Professor Selwyn Ryan.
The decisive two to one victory is also a tribute to what Warner has accomplished in the constituency, although Prakash Ramdhar of the Congress of the People described Jack Warner’s by-election victory as “a most dangerous development in the politics of our country”.
“We have witnessed the emergence of a new vulgar concept of the politics of money, based on the personal wealth of an individual.”
This may just be political vitriol, but there is no disputing that the electorate elected a man whose integrity has been seriously questioned.
Warner was very important to the coalition of parties which forms the government, because it presented a multi-ethnic coalition. It is not clear if he will rejoin the Government as leader of the Independent Liberal Party or sit on the back bench behind the main opposition party, the People’s National Movement.
If Warner remains outside, and the United National Congress has done everything to prevent his election, it reduces the government of another seat in parliament following the resignation of Herbert Volney.
The former judge turned politician described the UNC rule as “corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and oligarchic autocratic rule” in his resignation letter.
The scene is set for political bacchanal in which, like Carnival, nobody knows for sure who is playing mas in which band.
Political analysts view Warner’s victory as a sign of the erosion of public support for the UNC, who ran their acting chairman as a candidate against him. Some commentators have suggested it may well be the beginning of the end for the coalition government of Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The most intriguing possibility posed by the election of Jack Warner is the emergence of post-racial politics in Trinidad. It would be a healthy development.
However, we must be cautious in our contemplation because it is not the first time that such a possibility has existed. Recall the 1986 election victory of the National Alliance for Reconstruction. (Observer)