Dr. Fraser- Point of View
May 28, 2010
Manning gets booted

I spent last week in Barbados with colleagues from Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica so that the events that dominated the news in those two countries took centre stage, as my colleagues tried to catch up with the news at home. Having said that, developments in those two countries would have naturally been of concern to the rest of the region and particularly to us in SVG.  Jamaica should remind us of where we can possibly go, after all SVG takes second place to Jamaica in the drug trade in the region and there are all sorts of allegations about the relationship between drugs and politics here. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, former Prime Minister Patrick Manning had a special relationship with Dr. Gonsalves, and Manning had developed a reputation as a strong regionalist and was behind efforts to forge a political and economic partnership with the OECS countries, and particularly with the Windward Islands.{{more}} Trinidad and Tobago under Manning had also offered help to the region with its oil money. The Jamaican situation is still playing itself out, so I am going to concentrate in this article on developments in Trinidad and Tobago that led to the defeat of the incumbent PNM government.

In the days immediately preceding Monday’s poll, the news coming out of Trinidad and Tobago was that they were in for a close contest, and many felt that disillusioned PNMites were coming back into the fold. It turned out not to be so with that party’s overwhelming defeat by the Peoples Partnership, a grouping of the United National Congress, Congress of the People, the Tobago Organisation of the People, the Movement for Social justice- made up of people from the Trade Unions and NGO movement and the National joint Action Committee that came out of the Black Power Movement. As the 70 percent turnout on election day showed, the electorate was really determined to see the end of a leader who had lost touch with reality and who was disconnected from what was happening on the ground. Patrick Manning has come in for a lot of blame from members of the PNM and others not associated with the Party. His decision to call the election within 2 1/2 years of the parliamentary term took a lot of people by surprise, among them members of his own party. There was, however, method in his madness because he feared having to deal with a motion of no confidence in parliament that would have focused on a lot of the corruption, including Udecott, over which he was facing a barrage of criticisms and his evangelistic wanderings. Moreover, he hoped to have forestalled the formation of the coalition that was clearly on the agenda with Basdeo Panday out of the picture. So when Manning declared that he had no regrets about calling the election one can understand it in this context.

Many PNM supporters felt that one of the options Manning had once the scandals began to surface and became a talking point was to have resigned and let the Party have a leadership convention. It was felt that Keith Rowley would then have taken the reins, the election would not have come at this time and the party could have worked around the many scandals that were associated with its leader. The love hate relationship between Manning and Rowley did no good for the party. Attempts to shake hands and show that the party came first only made matters worse since the public was aware of the bad blood that was flowing between them. Some of Rowley comments were clearly not helping. It was as if he expected the party to lose and was just awaiting his time. His public comment that when the ship was in battle was no time to throw the Captain overboard but that there would be time later for dry dock and court martial would have raised eyebrows among the electorate and within the party. But at issue was not only the corruption and the many other scandals that surrounded Manning. He had really lost a sense of who he was. Tony Fraser said it best when he referred to his ‘overblown ego’. He was spending money as if it was going out of style. The gigantic Prime Minister’s Residence that cost a fortune, as were other edifices. Then there was the hosting of two major summits in one year that cost the tax payers millions of dollars. What made it worse is that these appeared designed to tickle his fancy and build and make his ego even more overblown. He was about hobnobbing with world leaders from the developed world as he situated himself in that fancy land that he created. He even thought of having a private jet that would have allowed him to move around the world discussing matters related to the two summits that he was holding. It was opposition within Trinidad and Tobago that forestalled it. Then some religious fancy had taken hold of him and he talked of being a pastor in the new life that was to follow when he eventually had enough of politics. His relationship with his spiritual advisor and the scandal surrounding the building of a church fitted in with this aspect of his life. The Trinidad Express in its editorial of Wednesday, May 26, put a particular spin on things. It states, “Great is the collapse of moral authority undergone by the PNM. The election proved that the characteristic cockiness of its leaders heedless of public opinion could not prevail against such disgust as was occasioned, for example, by the misdoings of UdeCott, associated with its disgraced former Chairman, Calder Hart.”

But what does the victory of the Peoples Partnership mean? Does it signal the beginning of the end of racial politics in Trinidad and Tobago. The fact that the Partnership made serious inroads in many of the PNM strongholds suggests that many traditional PNM supporters would have voted for them. Did the position of Jack Warner upfront as Chairman of the party send a particular signal? What impact did COP have with its more mixed grouping? Would the United National Congress with its overwhelming place in the Partnership eventually take control of things and move the country back into the old style racial politics? Clearly, without having on board the Congress of the People the victory of the UNC could not have been guaranteed because it would have meant the splitting of votes even in traditional UNC areas. Any collapse of the coalition would bring not only serious problems to the country but could spell the doom of the United National Congress. The formation of a coalition government in Britain would have helped the Peoples Partnership at a time when the PNM was making a big song and dance about the expected failures of coalition governments, using as its point of reference the collapse of the NAR after two years in control of the government following its overwhelming victory in 1986 that saw the George Chambers led government fall 33 seats to 3. The selection of Cabinet positions would be important in signalling the way the new government might take shape.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar has carved out a place in the history of Trinidad and Tobago as the first female Prime Minister in that twin – island state. She becomes, too, the fourth woman to have held the position of Head of government, following Eugenia Charles, Janet Jagan and Portia Simpson-Miller. There is a lot at stake for her, not only in meeting the challenges that the country faces but also in dealing with her own image following the barrage of attacks levelled at her by Manning and the PNM. We look forward to see what kind of positions she would take in terms of Trinidad and Tobago’s pledge under the old regime to be central to an economic and political union of the OECS countries or some of them. While we try to reflect on the approach that the new government will take to the region and also the relationship with SVG given what existed under Manning, we have to try to see if there are lessons that we in SVG can learn from what happened in T&T?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.