STEPHON NICHOLAS and KINNESHA GEORGE-HARRY
The People's National Movement (PNM) and Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) have agreed on one thing for the January 25 THA election. Both parties criticised a proposal made by former chief secretary Hochoy Charles to boycott the election.
Charles, the political leader of The Platform of Truth (TPT), said on Tuesday, "Tobago should not vote in this election.”
In an interview with Tobago Channel 5’s morning programme, Charles said a low voter turnout would force the government’s hand to give Tobago internal self-government.
“Carry our legislation and pass it," he said.
Charles recalled the "no vote" campaign in 1971, led by ANR Robinson, where opposition parties boycotted the general election to protest against the use of voting machines and for the voting age to be reduced to 18.
“Thirty-three per cent of the population went and vote. The PNM won all 36 seats at that time but with 28 per cent of the votes.
“They win the election but couldn’t govern properly because 28 per cent – the whole world – calling the government a 28 percenter.
"The point is that you had an issue before the election that you need to do, you ignore the issue, you went and the world said no, that is not democracy. As a result, all the changes were made immediately after,” Charles said.
He believes Tobago should adopt a similar stance.
“Tobago should not participate in this election and must say to the country, what we should say as a protest is, 'You have our thing down there too long, we’re not voting in this election, fix our self-government.'
"It is the only way and the only option to force the government to bring the legislation forward."
He added, “Marijuana bill, everything is being passed and Tobago is not being given its power to regulate our conduct and do our business in Tobago.”
He said with a low voter turnout the government would recognise the seriousness of the issue. The Tobago self-government bill was read in Parliament and is currently before a joint select committee. The bill, which lapsed last parliamentary term, cannot be passed with a simply majority.
Charles said all Tobagonians must get on board in the fight.
“Tobago struggle is a liberation struggle and every individual, regardless of your age in Tobago, must be involved in the liberation struggle to free Tobago from Trinidad. When that comes to Tobago, Hochoy Charles is not involved in the politics again.”
CHIEF SEC: PURE NONSENSE
Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis on Tuesday dismissed Charles' strategy as ridiculous.
"That to me is one of the most nonsensical suggestions I've heard from Mr Charles and there is no way that would advance the cause of Tobago's autonomy," he said.
Dennis said the PNM has already put in motion the process towards autonomy.
"The PNM is the only political party that has taken this issue to this point where we now have a bill in the Parliament representing the views, aspirations and wishes of the majority of Tobagonians with respect to self government.
"This bill (follows) a whole lot of work from since 2006, from the days of the John Prince committee and the most recent intervention...to engage all the major political parties with one voice concerning this issue, and Mr Hochoy Charles was part of that process. A bill was submitted and it is there at this point in time."
Dennis noted the PNM requires Opposition support to pass but hopes "in this term of the Parliament it would get to a vote and the Opposition does the right thing and grant Tobagonians the ability to govern ourselves."
He expressed dismay that Charles would encourage Tobagonians not to vote.
"He of all people should know the struggle. The struggle that has been fought by many Tobagonians: from APT James, to ANR Robinson, to Winston Murray, to Orville London and even himself...We have fought for the advancement of this Assembly and while it has come incrementally and not with the kind of acceleration many of us would like, we are still a somewhat autonomous island. We still have tremendous responsibilities over our affairs and Tobagonians must come out and vote for the party of their choice."
PDP: 'NOBLE' BUT RISKY TACTIC
Although acknowledging the objective of Charles' strategy, Augustine believes that tactic would not work today.
"This is not 1971. This is 2021. Tobagonians cannot take the risk by allowing PNM to retain control of the THA," he said.
Augustine said Charles' theory ignores other factors that pressured the government.
"Although in 1971 the government eventually acceded to the measures the people wanted, one must be mindful that there were other socio-economic conditions that caused that to happen. For example, 1971 was following on the heels of the 1970 Black Power Movement and during that period the country experienced states of emergencies. The government had every reason to be fearful that they can have a revolution on their hands.
"This is not 1971. This is 2021 and the reality is that while the intention may sound noble, staying away from the polls simply means PNM will dig in their heels. This PNM cannot be trusted to not dig in their heels with a complete wipe out again."
He said a PNM sweep at the polls will not benefit Tobago.
"We saw it happen between 2013 and 2017...I am now reviewing the management letter from the Auditor General which shows all of those egregious occurrences during that period where there was absolutely nobody to keep control and to monitor their use of the State's purse. Tobagonians cannot take that risk.
"If Tobagonians want autonomy, Tobagonians need to teach PNM a lesson and vote PDP in Tobago. The moment Tobagonians do that, PNM Trinidad will wake up and realise it will lose the two Tobago seats in Parliament and come right and bring the bill before Parliament. Unless we do that on January 25, we will remain in this position for the next two decades."
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi assured Tobagonians earlier this month that autonomy will be on the front burner.
"The Tobago self-governance issue comes to the front," he said.
During the budget presentation in October, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said the bill would be given the "highest priority."
He added, "It is our sincere hope that we would get the necessary bipartisan support of the Opposition as we seek passage of this critical piece of legislation for Tobago and TT in order to deepen the democratic process and to provide greater autonomy to the people of Tobago."