As was widely expected, the local government elections (LGE) resulted in a repeat of the control of the 14 local government bodies being split 7-7 between the PNM and UNC. Crumbs of votes were sprinkled on the minor parties.
We have reconfirmed our propensity to condemn ourselves to continued political stagnation.
In their post LGE remarks, I sensed hints of awareness of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition respectively that the electorate is unhappy with the state of the country but yet is not willing to move towards the replacement of the PNM by the UNC.
Our LGE have little relevance to local issues and campaigning does not relate to such issues. Voter turnout is invariably abysmal. This time the overall voter turnout was even worse: 30.34 per cent, four per cent less than in 2019.
Nevertheless, we must be grateful that we continue to have elections according to the legal framework that provides for them. The just concluded LGE 2023 retained that fundamental significance, which was underscored when it became necessary for the Privy Council to restrain the government’s plan to delay the LGE.
Two weeks ago, I stated in advance of the outcome of the LGE as follows: “Sadly however, the majority of citizens know that after we have marked the constitutional spot and the election is over we have nothing new to which to look forward.
“Our betterment is an illusion. The ravages of violent crime, corruption and crumbling infrastructure will continue. No one will be held responsible.”
There is something that we will have to endure. The dangerous and emotionally unbalanced feuding between the Government and the Opposition. This feuding seems assured as Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar (Kamla), head to a re-match in the General Election constitutionally due in 2025.
A column published in July 2021 dealt with our country’s descent almost exclusively into the practice of the poisonous politics of demonisation.
I summarised then the view of journalist, commentator and a best-selling author on human behaviour, Amanda Ripley, relating to the negative consequences for the United States if the country becomes trapped in unhealthy political conflict.
In this situation, the opposing sides each become convinced of their own superiority and the rules of engagement change. Our failed Government plan to change the rules of engagement for the term of the then incumbent councillors and aldermen, which was restrained by the Court, can readily be seen in that light.
I remind readers of this reference to the consequences of unhealthy conflict because the anxiety of United States commentators about the degree of conflict in politics has increased. Strategists, voters and candidates are reportedly concerned about the dangers to democracy of “giving certain forms of abnormality a pass”.
(See ‘The normal paths to beating Trump are closing’ – The New York Times 5 August 2023.)
Re-matches, according to The New York Times of 14 August 2023, are also a source of worry as a Donald Trump versus Joe Biden re-match appears inevitable next year. There has not been a re-match in United States’ presidential elections since 1956.
The concern is that such re-runs militate against “moving towards a new season” and, if those are the choices, “most voters would probably fall in line”.
Our likely Rowley versus Kamla re-match is of course not an exact parallel to the situation in the US. Above all else, the deterioration of the quality of life in Trinidad and Tobago is a vivid concern, even for voters normally ensnared by tribal preferences.
Then there is the Tobago situation. In circumstances in which the PNM’s hold on the two Tobago seats in the House of Representatives is pivotal, political feuding and intrigue will thrive in the confusion surrounding the disappointing melt-down of Farley Augustine’s leadership of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA)—after he successfully led those who defeated the PNM in the THA elections.
We are probably looking at an even nastier two years, ahead of the next general election, while most elites (some of whom play both sides) remain supine and give a silent pass to the abnormalities of daily murder, robbery and home invasion; and to the dereliction of duty of our rulers.