In the 1986 general election the vast majority of PNM support continued to come from Afro-Trinis contrary to the view that a large number of them liberated themselves from the PNM anchor and shifted to the NAR. The limited numbers that did so would no doubt have been comforted by the fact that the NAR leader was an Afro-Trini.
As I noted earlier, the PNM polled 218,557 votes in the 1981 election, which I deduced were overwhelmingly Afro-Trinis.
In the 1986 election the PNM obtained 183,418 votes — a decline of a mere 35,139 which partially represented abstentions and partially a shift to the NAR. In some constituencies such as San Fernando East (662), Port of Spain South (208), Laventille (319), La Brea (288), Arouca South (181), Pointe-a-Pierre (323), Tunapuna (725) and St Joseph (496), the decline in PNM votes from 1981 was just a few hundred.
In others such as St Ann’s West, St Ann’s East, Point Fortin, Diego Martin West, East and Central, Fyzabad and Ortoire/Mayaro, the reduced figures from 1981 were just above 1,000. In two constituencies — Port of Spain North and Port of Spain East — the PNM marginally increased its votes from 1981.
One of the outstanding features of the 1986 general election was that the Indo-Trini voters overwhelmingly supported the party led by an Afro-Trinidadian which contradicts the view that Indo-Trinidadians blindly and monolithically throw their support behind an Indo-Trinidadian leader.
Raffique Shah maintains that Indo-Trinis supported Robinson and the NAR because Basdeo Panday told them to do so. As someone who was involved in the formation of the NAR and aware of the elements at play in the choosing of its leader, Shah’s notion is somewhat misconceived.
When it was decided that the ULF and ONR should be dissolved and a single party constituted, the next critical issue to be confronted was the choice of leader for this unitary party. The media led by the Express, with Ken Gordon at its head, skilfully deployed an agenda to promote Mr Robinson for the position of leader of this new entity.
In January 1986, a party convention was held at the Rienzi Complex to formally elect a leader for the NAR. It was a foregone conclusion that Mr Robinson would be endorsed. Mr Panday was profoundly hurt by the summary dismissal of his claim to lead despite the significant support which the ULF brought. He asked ULF MPs that he be allowed to make a gesture by being nominated for the post of leader, but, at the convention, would make a grand public withdrawal in favour of Robinson.
I was given the task of securing nominations from ULF dominated constituency executives who were almost all Indo-Trinis. There was near universal opposition to the idea that Panday should submit a nomination. The dominant view was that Mr Robinson as an Afro-Trini should be elected to lead regardless of Mr Panday’s sentiments. I was able to secure nominations only from three constituency executives — Oropouche for which I was the MP, Siparia and Fyzabad where I had some influence.
If at this juncture Mr Panday had chosen to withdraw from the party or ask his supporters to abstain from voting, he would have had little success because Indo-Trini sentiment was not in his favour.
It is therefore erroneous to proclaim that Indo-Trinis would blindly and wholeheartedly support an Indo-Trini leader regardless of the circumstances. Indeed, in 1971 when, prior to the election of that year, Vernon Jamadar had ceded the leadership of the Indo-Trini party, the DLP, to ANR Robinson, Indo-Trinidadians were prepared to stand behind a non-Indo-Trini leader. Subsequently, Robinson unilaterally and without warning announced a no-vote campaign in that year.