New virus limitations, same old political ones

BC Pires
BC Pires


ALREADY I’VE seen Facebook posts claiming that the August 10 general election, when TT will still be under covid19 restrictions, was deliberately chosen to give the PNM government an unfair edge – but almost as many couch potato political pundits saw an election under at least partial lockdown as benefitting the opposition UNC!

Everyone seems to agree, though, that covid19 restrictions will make the election itself more difficult. Crowd size limitations will deny political parties the massive rallies. Social distancing and deep cleaning requirements will add hours to the voting process. One cough in a voting line and people will scatter. The police will force UNC supporters to wear masks, but not PNM people. Political party volunteers won’t want to risk infection to work as agents. And virtual campaigning might work for Joe Biden in the US, but which Trini will watch Kamla or Keith on YouTube when they could watch Modern Family on Netflix?

Obviously, covid19 restrictions will make the whole thing harder – but how could they possibly make any difference to the outcome?

The real curse that will damn the election next month is not covid19, the new virus, but Trinidad 2020, which operates under the same old, same old that has ruined elections since independence. Jump high, jump up low, space out your manifesto proposals two metres apart (as Bally might have sung in this year’s remix of Party Time) but, when the dust and the droplets settle, the choice is still between the UNC and the PNM.

It’s not a novel virus that will do us in, but our old, useless broken-down politics, or what passes for it, in Trinidad.

Voters in Trinidad have for decades had the same extremely limited choices put before them of the same even more extremely limited parties. The lone option has always been between what Trinis see as minor PNM honesty (compared with the UNC), hobbled by massive incompetence, and minor UNC efficiency (compared with the PNM), dragged down by massive corruption.

Of course, neither of them is actually honest or competent and both are inefficient and corrupt – if measured by only one standard (and there are many more), namely, their relationship with the Jamaat al Muslimeen, who themselves moved from failed coup-making to very successful state benefit-taking. Outcasts have never been so close to the elite.

We’ve always had at the least the nub of a plausible third party, but Trinidad very early on perfected the art of dismissing such possibilities without any thought at all. The Tapia House Movement – the only political party based on politics, the clear statement of its ideals and the invitation to the citizen to join – was dismissed because “Lloyd Best was an intellectual.”

It’s like Trinis want a dunce to lead them.

Before Tapia, Alfred Gomes’ Party of Political Progress Groups and, after Tapia, Karl Hudson-Phillips’ Organisation for National Reconstruction were both rejected as “white people thing,” like foie gras, therapy or going down the islands.

Trinidadians, particularly, are sick to the stomach of the same PNM/UNC lies they’ve been forced to swallow for decades. Tobago at least gets the occasional illusion of change in being asked to swallow ANR Robinson or Hochoy Charles or Orville London or Watson Duke untruths.

It’s no surprise that, given our Hobson’s choice, because both parties are so unappealing, voters usually do not vote anyone into power, but vote them out of office.

It’s a ridiculous state of affairs – perhaps just a ridiculous state – but it’s persisted for half a century because, apart from the relatively few years of the recession PNM prime minister George Chambers weathered, Trinidad has had piles of unearned cash to squander.

Not so now.

TT is more or less broke.

If the PNM and the UNC weren’t so thick, they might have realised that there’s literally nothing to fight over: if the treasury isn’t empty, it soon will be.

So on election day pull your face mask (make sure it isn’t red or yellow) over your eyes and mark your X in either spot. (Or register your protest by voting for one of the Facebook groups that has convinced itself it’s a political party.)

And then go back home and mutter about both covid19 and whichever set of clowns sits on which side of the Red House the next day.

But realise, today, right now, that you will have a cure for covid19 long before you have a vaccine against either PNM or UNC.

BC Pires is the political leader of NOTA: None of the Above. Read the full version of this column on Saturday at


"New virus limitations, same old political ones"

More in this section