So where do we go from here?


IT’S CARNIVAL Monday and vast swathes of Trinis are gearing up for the parade that, for some, will culminate in oblivion, prostrate in a mossy canal somewhere in PoS.

Others are off at religious retreats praying for the damned or ensconced along the coasts waiting for the mas menace to blow over.

It’s not likely many have spared a thought for what’s to come after the Carnival.

Indeed, former prime minister Basdeo Panday knew he was taking a chance by calling an assembly of smaller political parties in the week before the party paroxysm.

I went because I’m curious to hear any “third party” perspective on the goings-on in TT. It was an opportunity for what this country desperately needs; intelligent discussion. You see, the wolves once at our door are now at our throats.

There are probably those who feared that attending such a meeting would be an outward, public endorsement of a unified third force to confront the PNM and UNC in GE 2020.

Trinis love to bellyache about the widespread ignorance that shackles this country to failure. Still, they’re rarely prepared to do anything that even inches towards enlightenment. In TT, it’s better to never try and fail, while badmouthing those who do try.

If things are ever to improve we need an open exchange of ideas, strategies and action plans.

Putting to rest any misinterpretation of motive, Panday says he has no intention of re-entering electoral politics. The man who once said “if you see a lion and me fighting, feel sorry for the lion” is now, himself, the lion in winter.

Instead, Panday shared his vision of a path to change, breaking the hegemonic politics of race-based voting with constitutional reform that will usher in proportional representation.

This, he’s convinced, will allow a diverse society that is segmented (but not segregated) on several fronts – race, socioeconomic strata, and geographically – to find expression in a vote.

He sees a corridor for electoral success in the countless thousands whose consciences and sanity won’t allow them to vote for either the PNM or the UNC.

If these smaller parties (together?) can win the hearts of those unrepresented people, they can enter the Parliament and push for dismantling a system that nourishes political parties trading largely in disappointment.

Here’s my takeaway: Constitutional change is necessary and we can certainly do with a parliament comprising several parties.

Achieving the change the old Silver Fox imagines (sorry Bas, unless I’m writing about kung fu, I won’t get to use the name Silver Fox) isn’t going to be easy.

These disparate parties, whether together or flying solo, need to be thinking about cultural change. Politicians who want to be the difference need to dive into the minds of voters. Why do people continue to vote the way they do even after being habitually disappointed by the traditional parties?

Third-force parties also need to face up to public scepticism, the kind that makes “third force” an almost risible term.

If a voter is afraid support for an outlier will be wasted, how do you answer those fears? And what is a vote worth anyway, if it’s spent keeping a party out rather than putting one in?

If constitutional reform is the way to break the stranglehold of traditional politics, this sinewy topic has to be communicated in a manner that citizens can understand. The message must be broken down in a way that reflects the thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams of the electorate.

Constitutional reform may very well be the answer to banishing a system that allows incompetence and corruption to thrive. But if citizens don’t get it there can be no buy-in, and without buy-in there’s no change.

What’s clear is many people misunderstood the purpose of last Wednesday’s meeting. This isn’t about Basdeo Panday.

For his part, Panday spent zero time focused on Kamla or Keith because it wasn’t about them either. He spoke only of the need for change and creating a more inclusive political culture. The mic was then handed over to the crowd.

We need more intelligent discussion forcing us to think about answers to dig us out of our mess so we can give TT a fighting chance.

If someone held another such meeting, I’d attend that one too. As a great man once said, “The world has little use for people whose only knowledge is why a thing cannot be done.”

So, which one of you just complaining on Facebook will be calling the next meeting?


"So where do we go from here?"

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