My principal but probably vain hope for the general election, to be held on August 10, is that it will not polarise the country further.
Realistically, one cannot hope for more, and it is mamaguy to feed us dreams of unity and overcoming, while our leaders are likely to engage in verbal warfare, way beyond the so-called cut and thrust of political debate. They will regularly launch personal attacks against each other, with slurs and smears, and sometimes similarly attack us for daring to have a different opinion.
Events in neighbouring Guyana concerning its general election, held on March 2, have heightened my alarm at polarisation, as I was stimulated to take a more intense interest in what was happening there.
Both sides of the yawning political divide in Guyana were soliciting commentaries to suit their position, and I myself was solicited for an interview in the Guyanese media. I declined but, even as I was stimulated to take more notice, I recalled that our Opposition UNC had started sniping Guyanese-style at our Elections and Boundaries Commission. This was uncalled for. Trinidad and Tobago has a good reputation for a stable and unrigged electoral process.
The result in Guyana is still undeclared four months later, and the latest event related to the Guyanese election played out right here in Port of Spain on Wednesday last.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) delivered its decision declaring invalid and of no effect the report of the Chief Elections Officer purporting to remove 115,000-plus ballots, which he considered invalid, from the tabulation prepared for the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom).
Prior to delivery of the decision last Wednesday, supporters of the incumbent and apparently defeated government in Guyana mounted an insidious and improper campaign against the CCJ.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of the week, the UNC announced its candidates. Looking at the list then, it seemed to me it was a political insurance list, packed with persons who might not be inclined to dump the Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, if the UNC lost.
My suspicion of a Kamla political insurance list of UNC candidates was provisional, but on the very day the CCJ was set to deliver its decision, I read that Kamla was calling on the Prime Minister for international observer teams to monitor our upcoming August 10 general election “as a mechanism for ensuring election integrity”.
Without waiting for a response from the Prime Minister, who the next day commendably acted upon the suggestion, she could not resist referring to the recent election in Guyana and to “allegations of electoral rigging and impropriety now being litigated”. Was such a barbed call really necessary? Do we need to import pole-rigging jumbies from Guyana about rigged elections into our country?
The timing and misleading tone of the Kamla call has hardened my suspicion that the Leader of the Opposition may be setting up herself for a post-election fall back role of martyred loser, if necessary.
We must do everything possible to avoid fuelling a polarisation as deep as that in Guyana. There are so many issues on which the UNC can take the fight to the incumbent PNM. There is the continuous vulnerability on crime, particularly in respect of rampant murder, the perpetrators of which the Police Service seems woefully unable to detect in the majority of cases.
We have the serious pressing issue of the recent community unrest triggered by police-involved killings. Some see plainly now what I have previously described as “visionless leadership paying insufficient attention to the horrible underlying social conditions into which many children are born”.
The Government now admits there is a socio-economic problem in certain communities, picks a committee to look into community recovery, and promises money in the 2021 budget to action such recovery.
With great respect to the committee, many members of which are admirably sensitive and aware of the realities on the ground, were the PNM MPs for the disadvantaged communities so lacking brain and powers of observation that they were unable to let the Cabinet know of the true state of their constituencies, or was the Cabinet unheeding as well?