Saturday, October 15, 2005

Trinidad Politics

I'm back to the stage where I don't even want to read newspapers from home any more. You look at the Guardian or Express and all you see is murder after murder. I'd say I'm reminded of 1995, but the truth is, compared to this 1995 was nothing.

It's obvious that Manning is incompetent, he really isn't up to the job. I won't go as far as to say that he's complicit in the crime wave - crime tsunami, really - I don't believe that he is. But he isn't up to doing anything about it. He has been blessed by spikes in oil prices that allowed him to bring a budget full of tax cuts and other goodies. Will it be sustainable? I wasn't able to figure out what sort of an oil price it was predicated on, so the answer is "who knows". In a normal economy, driven by internal factors, this level of crime would depress the economy enough to force any government to act. The problem is that government revenue is all the more dependent on external factors, and while high crime can make foreign investors think twice about getting involved in a country, these are oil companies - compared to a lot of places they operate, Trinidad is still a safe country, even after a string of bombings.

So elections are not due until the end of 2007. More than two years away. It should be plenty of time for the government to start to crack down on crime and spread enough patronage to keep themselves in power. To be honest, as much as I despise this government, it's beyond the point where I can take pleasure in their failures in the hope that it will get them voted out of office. I would rather they do something, get crime under control, even if it meant that they were given another term in government by the grateful populace. I just don't believe that they can do anything. Manning failed in 1991-1995, and he is failing in precisely the same way in 2001-2007, or hopefully 2001-2006 (one can always hope he calls another snap election and gets voted out again, but I don't think that even he is that stupid).

So what of the UNC? Will Dookeran's election (or annointment, really) as party leader be the thing that people are looking for? Dookeran has been an almost mythical figure for a long time - Abu Bakr wanted him as interim Prime Minister after the coup, he remains the most popular politician in Trinidad and Tobago. The problem, I suspect, is one of whether people will see him as running the UNC, or simply being a new face for a party run by Bas. For the time being, Bas is still the man in charge, and everyone knows it. Not only is he still Leader of the Opposition, he is also the puppetmaster within the party. His slate was able to win control of the party executive, and he retains the support of the rank and file, and of the core supporters of the party. For the time being, the party is still his, and it looks like he wants to pull a Lee Kwan Yew and stay as "Senior Minister". I don't think that will do the trick. In order to win over the "swing voters", people have to believe that they are voting for Wins, not Bas. Too many people do not trust Bas, even though they aren't happy with Patrick.

What is interesting is that Bas' slate was able to win control of the party executive, while Dookeran's slate failed. In 2001 it was the other way around - Bas' slate failed, and Ramesh's slate won. It says something about the membership of the UNC. In 2001 Bas backed an "NAR" slate - people like Carlos John, and Ramesh backed a solidly Indian slate. In 2005 Bas picked the Indian option, leaving Dookeran to back the integrated, ex-NARite slate. And once again the Indian slate won. (Ok, maybe "ex-NARite" is the wrong term, since Kamla and the skinny man were people who stayed in NAR in 1991). What does that mean for the party? Well, like anywhere else, the party membership, the core of the party, is not the same as the people who will or may vote for it in an election. The UNC is a party of the grassroots, of the sugar worker - these are the people who have followed Bas for the last 30 years. The "NAR element" - Indian or mixed, middle to upper middle class - may be solidly within the party, they may have given their allegience to the UNC, but they are probably not as well represented among party members.

But all this is speculation based on feeling and impression, and not on any data. But at the very least, we have the prospect of the next election being Naps versus Pres!

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