THE EDITOR: The entry of the PDP’s Watson Duke into the politics of Trinidad gives room for much speculation, for his party had an unexpected but overwhelming victory over the PNM in the last THA election, and the question to ask is whether he can be equally successful in Trinidad per se.
My view is that there is only one plausible reason that Duke’s PDP virtually annihilated the PNM in Tobago: the well known “ethnic” factor which has characterised TT’s politics since independence was virtually absent in the THA election.
The appeal in Tobago could not have been “ethnic,” as it has always been in Trinidad, for though there may be a sprinkling of East Indians et al, Tobago, demographically, is predominantly African and the relatively small numbers of the other were not sufficient to dichotomise the politics into one group against another as in Trinidad.
Which is why, in my view, the PDP won so convincingly. Not necessarily because it seemed a viable option to the PNM in terms of anticipated performance, though that factor may have entered the equation, with Duke’s appeal as the vociferous, though controversial, leader of the PSA and young stalwarts in the PDP as Farley Augustine et al, but more so because they seemed an alternative to a PNM, any alternative to the PNM, with which, as the numbers would show subsequently, they had become extremely disenchanted.
It may be useful to speculate that had there been any semblance of ethnic division in Tobago between the two major races introduced into the politics of the island by a UNC presence – now seemingly extinct – and worse yet, aligned with the PDP, the election would have likely been in reverse in favour of the PNM. For the simple reason that the ethnic factor trumps all else in the politics of this country and the predominantly African population would have likely voted for the Afro-based PNM.
ANR Robinson with the NAR victory in 1986 is a singular exception to this pattern, for although he was African, he was not PNM but belonged to another party. Yet the Afro-Tobagonians voted for him in that election, with his unique charisma in the eyes of Tobagonians trumping all else.
The NAR lesson of 1986 with Robinson’s victory is a lesson that Duke has to learn: that if he comes into ethnically divided Trinidad with a predominantly African base in terms of would-be electoral candidates, he would naturally precipitate the same old, same old ethnic divide, with East Indians voting UNC and Africans PNM or PDP, with the mixes somewhere in the middle.
It is mandatory that Duke neutralises this traditional ethnic divide by including as many non-African candidates in his line-up. Competence is essential but not every candidate is a Robinson; politics is perception and no matter what the competence of the candidate, once there appears to be a predominance of one ethnic make-up, in this case Africans, East Indians are likely to gravitate to their traditional home in the UNC.
The NAR/UNC combination of 1986 was able to neutralise the traditional ethnic divide in the politics by having an acceptable mix of the races, albeit through an alliance of parties. If Duke refuses to form an alliance with any existing party, especially the UNC or other parties, or if indeed he does eventually, he must create a perception, whatever the framework, if even with the PDP going it alone, of an acceptable mixing of the races re the candidates.
It is the only way, I think, that any change in the politics of TT as a whole can take place, as was the case in Tobago.
DR ERROL N BENJAMIN