DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
THE TOBAGO House of Assembly elections result have awoken in us a sense of optimism at a moment that feels very much like 2010.
The country was fed up of Patrick Manning. He had grown increasingly unable to communicate with the public, and become high-handed and condescending. He seemed to believe that he and the PNM were untouchable, and was shocked when the party lost the election, when vote-buying promises didn’t work yet again, and when threatening to beat his enemies across the east and west failed to intimidate a fed-up electorate.
We have been feeling this way over the past months. The current Prime Minister is either berating people or using vicious language to establish his lack of accountability, whether over the commissioner of police snafu or questions about his own integrity.
The party mocked accusations of gerrymandering the electoral boundaries in Tobago. Ironic, given where the PNM polled its major votes. It ran a smear campaign in the newspapers, focusing on the same old strategies of condemning opponents and flinging promises in every direction, but could not bring a sense of hope despite all the resources available as incumbents.
Additionally, in much of his recent communication, the PM himself cannot strike the right tone: he seems either obsolete and/or on the defensive, mired in an old mode of authoritarian leadership and dominant manhood. The PNM voice is an arrogant one.
The party made the same mistake in 2010. Then as now, the electorate leapt toward an alternative with sweeping dismissal of a party that behaves as if it has a right to power, to state monies and channels, and docile voters.
The key, of course, was an alternative. We don’t currently have one in TT.
Whatever the pros and cons of the Opposition Leader, Persad-Bissessar can’t lead the UNC to a national victory. There were fatal mistakes along the way over the last decade and the PNM campaign machine goes straight for her jugular, with a gendered violence led by the PM himself. This is a lesson for us and for the Opposition.
I was glad to see Tobagonians were not drawn into PNM scaremongering and constant references to the UNC playbook, which is about one degree of separation from the threat of the “Calcutta ship.” After seven years in power, whipping up such racialised fear feels desperate, for surely a win is possible on the basis of performance in power after all this time.
The next big question is whether a UNC-PDP alliance can sweep the country in the next election, for there’s a thick feeling of disconnection between people and the Government, and the pandemic is an electoral crisis for incumbents everywhere, but the UNC will need fresh, grounded faces at the helm.
Along with excitement at Tobago’s possibilities, we look longingly at the island’s ability to marshal different voices and leadership from within its communities in just a few short years. Trinidad’s politics are divided by geography, race, religion and class, and highly contentious. There’s no nationalist feeling to corral voter sentiment as there is in Tobago, where the debate about autonomy and feelings of being under Trinidad’s dominion provide such fertile ground. Loud mouths can easily gain traction here, the way Trump did in the US, as a cynical population searches for different leadership, and mistakes plain talk and bad manners for the honesty, transparency and common sense we need.
That said, there’s the problem of Watson Duke, who was actually charged with a sexual offence. Ralph Gonsalves is testament to Caribbean leaders’ ability to hold power despite such charges, and the PNM Women’s League’s constant defence of Dr Rowley’s sexist statements is a sign of how little we prioritise transformation in masculinities. This is a chink in the sheen of power in post-election Tobago.
In Trinidad, we are watching closely to see if a centre of greater transparency and better governance emerges, to see if the feeling that change is necessary and possibly stretches across our islands, and to see if a new generation can present itself as convincingly as an alternative to the old. And, of course, we celebrate with the people of Tobago.
Diary of a mothering worker