Farley Augustine and the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) have interrupted the alarming descent of Trinidad and Tobago into an authoritarian one-party state and I thank them for that.
Having comprehensively routed the incumbent People’s National Movement (PNM) in the Tobago House of Assembly elections, in the backyard of its leader and prime minister, I was pleased that Farley identified the win ‘as a solid message to the central Government that you cannot treat Tobagonians the way you want’ and ‘a strong message, Mr Prime Minister, that we in Tobago have rejected your bullying tactics’.
Rafts of persons in both Trinidad and Tobago—journalists, economists, lawyers and other professionals, as well as professional and trade associations—have been frequently verbally abused. Farley and his troops showed that dissent, despite relentless personal attack and victimisation, is alive and well and capable of being converted into electoral victory.
The PDP came into the political playground and gave a good ‘calpet’ back to the political playground bullies on behalf of the victims of bullying. Many of these victims are ordinary citizens, prejudiced by the acts and omissions of the constitutional bodies, which are supposed to provide checks and balances against abuse of power but seem to have become less than robust under authoritarian pressure. Important constitutional processes have been compromised as a result.
In relation to the increase of seats in the Tobago House of Assembly and in response to other legitimate inquiries about the basis of decisions it makes, the Election and Boundaries Commission has not been as forthcoming as it should.
I am yet to understand the constitutional basis on which the Government could require the EBC to make boundary changes in Tobago simply in order to break the 6-6 electoral tie that occurred in January.
Fortunately, the legitimacy of an election and the pushback of the people of Tobago against being force-fed with legislative changes triumphed against another possible compromise of constitutional principle.
An editorial in the Trinidad Express newspaper last week gave the wise advice that the EBC ‘should recognise that its independence is always on public trial’ and that ‘any misstep it makes could cheapen the currency of public trust’.
The top officials of the EBC would also do well to drop the resentful tone it sometimes adopts when its decisions are queried.
I would respectfully add that the advice contained in the editorial should be heeded by the Office of the President and all other constitutional institutions that are intended to protect us from abuse of power.
Converting dissent and the fed-up feelings of citizens into electoral victory in Tobago was greatly assisted by Watson Duke, the leader of the PDP, standing aside to permit Farley to be the chief secretary.
To defeat an incumbent administration requires capturing the votes of those in the middle ground, torn between traditional loyalties and their awareness that an incumbent is making a mess of things.
Traditional loyalties will not be broken by a leadership choice unpalatable to those in the political middle ground. Duke knew, or was forced to acknowledge, the limits of his appeal and the negative perceptions of him beyond his base. Accordingly, with deference to Chalkdust, the PDP bowed to the cries of ‘Ah ‘fraid Duke’ and Farley became the attractive face of the leadership—alternative to the incumbent in Tobago.
Unfortunately, there are others in national politics whom we ’fraid bad and it remains likely that Duke will sour the freshness of the Farley factor.
Behind their pious references to the strength of our democracy, with which of their offensive excuses will the Cabinet autocrats console themselves for the massive rejection? Will they ascribe ‘drunkenness’ and other vices to the good people of Tobago?
Will they profile economically distressed but ‘able-bodied’ Tobagonians, who have basic unmet needs, as ‘pipers’? As a blanket excuse, why not condemn all PDP voters as ‘unpatriotic’ and not ‘right-thinking’?
Many political leaders lurch into the belief that their way is the only way. I recommend instead the late General Colin Powell’s third rule of leadership:
‘Avoid having your position so close to your ego that when your position falls your ego goes with it.’