We have been more unsettled than usual by the transition from one government to another following the 10 August 2020 General Election, even though the incumbent government was the victor.
The Opposition did not concede defeat on Election Night. It did so one week later, after recounts for which it called in five constituencies had been completed, with no change in the result first claimed by the prime minister at 10:30pm on Election night.
There is no point continuing the inquests into why this temporary impasse came about. I recommend that, in the future, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (the EBC) delivers the Statements of Poll to the media soon after it delivers it to the political parties on Election night. Citizens will then be privy to the same information as the political parties.
I concede only a brief delay before release of the Statements of Poll to the media, in order to permit the political parties to digest the result.
During the temporary impasse as votes were recounted, racist statements were made, mostly posted on social media, and a new and harsher kind of election bitterness emerged.
We may settle down, as we usually do, to a tolerable level of mutual respect between the races—at least sufficient to keep the country running and to help each other out in times of flood and other disasters.
We had a challenging time previously when there were three elections in two years. We came through the tensions of 17-17-2, and 18-18 when we had 36 seats in the House of Representatives, until the deadlock was broken in October 2002 by a People’s National Movement (PNM) victory over the United National Congress (UNC) 20-16.
The October 2002 General Election was followed by assertions that the election was stolen and references to violence. At the time, I wrote of the need to ‘shun without mercy the political tabanca’ of the loser.
There is a reference in Wikipedia about our politics during that period which always amused me: ‘Historically, elections inflamed otherwise tranquil race relations within Trinidad and Tobago’. Will we return to the same tranquility?
I think the wounds to our social fabric are deeper this time because social media permits citizens to harangue each other endlessly and in anger when they are drinking their political tea too hot.
That kind of bitterness will not fully return to the political bases from where the bitterness came. It will remain as a potential source of ignition in a society made more combustible by economic hard times and deplorable socio-economic conditions in certain areas.
The government was forced to come out of denial of these conditions when protests erupted shortly before the General Election. The promise now to be kept is that the government’s Community Recovery Committee chaired by Anthony Watkins will ‘find working solutions to address some chronic problems which can be found in urban and semi urban communities’.
Watkins has wisely made it plain that, whatever the Committee recommends, implementation will be the task of the government. Perhaps that is why the renewed Cabinet contains a new ministry entitled Youth Development and National Services.
I note the assignment of this new ministry to Fitzgerald Hinds, veteran MP for Laventille West. I know him as a fellow attorney and a fearsome black oil devil mas player. We once hugged on a Carnival Tuesday to the detriment of my sailor costume, for which I gave no care in the rush of camaraderie.
Sadly I find some of his published views on the dire problem of urban violence too narrowly focused on his party’s alleged accomplishments in providing opportunities for youth to ‘take up the fight for their own personal growth and development and to benefit from all that mother Trinidad and Tobago has had and continues to have on offer for the benefit of all its people’. (Express report 1 February 2020).
Much more will be required of Mr Hinds than blind loyalty to the status quo. I trust that with the help of the Watkins Committee, he may be able to broaden his horizons. Our stability depends on it.