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Rowley victorious after acrimonious campaign

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Only last Friday, the editorial of this paper lamented the paucity of women at the helm of governmental power. It made reference to the fact that globally, a mere 11 Heads of State (Presidents, Queens) are female, while there are only 14 women heading governments around the world.{{more}}

Sadly, one week later, the number of female Heads of Government has been reduced by one, with the electoral defeat in Trinidad and Tobago of Kamla Persad-Bissessar and what was left of her once proud, and seemingly inclusive, People’s Partnership government. That broad coalition, racked with internal strife, fell apart, and was defeated by the People’s National Movement, and its leader Dr Keith Rowley. Congratulations to the new Prime Minister and to the people of Trinidad and Tobago for another peacefully-conducted election, already pronounced free and fair by international observers.

Given T&T’s own frightening crime situation, itself a major issue in the elections, it is no mean feat to have experienced an election free of any major incident of violence. This is especially so when one considers the intensity of the political campaign and its personalisation around the two leaders. The campaigning had deteriorated to such an extent that the Chairman of the Elections Boundaries Commission, Mr Norbert Masson, described the campaign as “the most brutish, acrimonious, rampageous and vitriolic that I have witnessed in all my years at the Commission”. The vitriol and acrimony are developments not unfamiliar to Vincentians and of which we should take note, but, more time for that.

Dr Rowley led his party to victory at his first attempt at leading the PNM electoral charge, though he had been an Opposition Senator, an elected Parliamentarian since 1991 and Leader of the Opposition after the PNM’s defeat in 2010. The defeat for Persad- Bissessar and her United National Congress (UNC) came after a series of reverses in various elections in her country. It was the fifth time in succession that she had led her party to defeat and doubts have been expressed for her future in political leadership. She did not even go to bond with her party supporters at their Headquarters on election night.

Her much-vaunted “Partnership” fell apart at the seams in the face of countless scandals of corruption and allegations that the government had been high-jacked by a self-serving “cabal”. The labour element of the “Partnership” left early and relentlessly attacked its former “partner”, eventually signing a pact with Rowley and the PNM before the elections.

One-time Kamla confidant and Deputy Prime Minister, Jack Warner, also bit the dust politically, being forced to resign in the wake of the FIFA football corruption scandal, formed his own party, and then in anger turned on Kamla and the UNC, as he desperately sought to find local protection from extradition proceedings. He too was crushed at the polls.

Another “partner” in the government, the Congress of the People (COP) and its Tobago namesake, TOP, both were racked by internal dissentions and desertions, and defectors found their way to the PNM fold during the election campaign. The other member of the “Partnership”, NJAC, renowned for its “Black Power” days of the seventies, was never an electorally attractive proposition.

To be fair to the former PM, her government did deliver on many of its promises and one cannot help but surmise whether some of the constant attacks on her did not have a gender bias. But the fact remains that she was at the head, in bed with the “cabal”, and refused to take action to limit their influence. She has paid the price.

It is Trinidad and Tobago’s third government in the last eight years, leadership having changed from Basdeo Panday to Patrick Manning in 2007, then to Persad Bissessar in 2010, and now Rowley. As is customary here, all kinds of conclusions are being drawn, for partisan reasons. There are those, for instance, who, if in opposition to the Government, hail every change of government anywhere as a victory, and predict a similar occurrence here.

On the other hand, the ULP and its supporters have a different take, not without basis. They point to what PM Gonsalves described as “the long-standing relationship” between the PNM and the ULP and its predecessor, the SVGLP. They can also recall the support of the PNM administration under Manning for the Argyle International Airport and agreements for compensation for those here who lost money in the CLICO/British American fiasco. The rabid ULP-ites even rub it in, reminding us that the losing UNC’s colour is yellow, the same as the NDP, while the PNM, like the ULP, sports red.

All this may make for good political ribbing, but each country has its own dynamics which determines its choices. Rowley and his government have a herculean task both economically, given the low oil prices, and socially, where crime and corruption have become hallmarks. Trinidad and Tobago is extremely important to the rest of the Caribbean and it should be the hope of all that they would make some progress. Experience, though, casts many doubts.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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