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De bacchanal persists

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In September of last year, I wrote a two-piece column on aspects of what I dubbed “political bacchanal” in the Caribbean, with particular focus on happenings in Grenada, Nevis and St Kitts. Permit me here to quote a paragraph from the first part of that article:

“Politics in the Caribbean is never out of controversy and political bacchanal. The task of operating a political system not of our own creation and the very small size of our population, lend themselves to constant personality clashes, big storms in tiny teacups and misplaced priorities, which turn out to be a drag on our progress and development.{{more}} We end up stumbling from one political crisis to another, sometimes with more than one of these occupying our attention.”

The substance of my comments dealt with governance in the region and how politicians, once elected to office, often take actions which help to undermine the governance system and the practice of democracy in the region. It is a theme that I further addressed in February of this year in a column entitled “Elections and Governance in the Caribbean.” In part the article read, (I quote again), that such politicians often “…misinterpret their functions and perceive their role to be to ‘rule’ rather than to govern by consensus.”

Almost a year after the initial comments and six months after the February article, we are at it again in the region, more manifestations of the very same “political bacchanal”. Events in both Trinidad and Tobago, and the continuing crisis in St Kitts/Nevis, are once more stirring up regional concern.

In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the People’s Partnership government led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, seems to be rendering itself asunder at the seams. The Partnership was formed by a coalition of five political organisations, Ms Persad-Bissessar’s United National Congress (UNC), the Congress of the People (COP), itself an offshoot from the UNC, the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), and two organisations emanating from the popular movement, NJAC (National Joint Action Committee), which was born out of the Black Power movement, and the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) which has its roots in the labour movement.

The Partnership scored a handsome victory in the general elections of 2010 and each of the factions was rewarded by ministerial appointments. But, as has been the habit with coalitions in the Caribbean, soon strains began to appear in the coalition. The trade union component accused the UNC-led government of betraying its mission and manifesto and the MSJ left. The COP, in turn, had its own internal wranglings, with sections of its leadership charging that the UNC was showing scant respect for its coalition partner and actually trying to poach its membership.

But the biggest strain of all came in the person of one-time Caribbean football supremo Jack Warner. Warner had risen to be a major political force, reaching the post of deputy leader of the UNC. He however, proved to be a controversial figure, burdened by corruption allegations in football affairs at both the international and regional levels and reputedly under US financial scrutiny. The very popular Warner was forced to resign from his football posts and came under intense political pressure to give up his ministerial position.

The embattled Warner finally resigned, both from his UNC leadership post, as well as from Parliament, forcing a by-election last month. To the chagrin of the UNC, ‘Jack’ was overwhelmingly re-elected, receiving a clear mandate from his constituents and soundly thrashing the Prime Minister’s own candidate. Warner has formed his own party and already prominent figures from both the UNC and COP are flocking to its fold.

Now, local government elections are due and the Prime Minister had publicly given her word that they would be held on time. However with its political nose all bloodied in the by-election, it seems as though the UNC leadership is now bringing pressure on the Prime Minister to renege on her promise and to postpone the local government elections, so as to avoid further embarrassment.

Whatever one thinks of Jack Warner, he at least had the courage to resign and seek a mandate from his constituents. Many others in politics do not show such courage, thus the vacillation of the UNC on the question of the local government elections. It is this same lack of principle that had the previous government of Grenada, for months on end refusing to face a no-confidence motion in Parliament. It paid the ultimate price for its defiance of the popular will.

In St Kitts, the Denzil Douglas administration runs the risk of a similar fate. In fact, it has a precedent in the sister isle of Nevis, where the former Joseph Parry administration had tried to avoid censure in the legislature, until it finally succumbed to electoral defeat. At the Federal level, not only does Prime Minister Douglas have a no-confidence motion, which he refuses to entertain, over his head, but also his two closest lieutenants have abandoned ship.

Unfortunately, the situation there is rendered more complex by the recourse to the Courts, complicating what requires a political solution. That St Kitts situation is now the subject of Vincentian and regional discourse. In my column six months ago, I had written that:

“In both cases, (Grenada and St Kitts/Nevis), the governments imploded with leading Ministers of government either resigning or having been fired. It certainly does not speak highly of our maturity or stability in the region.”

It is unfortunate and, what this column had called “…a blight on the Caribbean body politic..” for such subversions of the will of the people to be entertained. Governments must not put their own political survival, above principle nor refrain from living up to their responsibilities, be it in Trinidad, St Kitts/Nevis, or wherever, on the grounds that they have their own legislative and economic programmes to pursue. As this column stated last year September:

“No economic policies can be sustainable in a situation of political confusion and division where the government seems to have lost the political and moral authority to govern. A clear political mandate is a necessity.”

Over to you, Prime Ministers Persad-Bissessar and Douglas!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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