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Voting NOTA

Sunday, September 6, 2015

By now you must be set. You don’t even have to ask for time off work. It’s understood you need the time to cast your vote in private for the candidate you have chosen to represent you in Parliament. You know it’s a two-way race, and you know who you are backing. You have a feeling that the party you are backing is going to win. You will take a drink on that.

There are a great many things that annoy you about Trinidad, like the back-to-school traffic, like having to wake up at four am to cook and pack lunch kits before dressing and going to work, like the months it takes to renew your passport, like the stench of the Beetham dump, the rising cancer rates at the unregulated Point Lisas estate, or the prostitutes at Curepe Junction or the children making babies, like the need to buy an affordable home for your family, the latest shooting, or the feeling you have pushed to the back of your head about wondering why every day there is a murder or two or three.

You even wonder, looking at the waste, the ghostly Napa building or the Life Sport corruption, how will they govern when the money runs out. You may briefly acknowledge that neither party has produced a manifesto that takes into account falling oil prices. That doesn’t affect your everyday life, except you are anxious when you park at night or when you lie wide-eyed till four am waiting for your children or spouse to come home safely from a lime or work.

You think once again about the party you support. The choice is simple. The UNC or the PNM. Your choice brings out a feeling inside of you: tribal belonging, rage, disenchantment, fear, hope, and satisfaction.

Most of you don’t know your candidates. They’ve been busy, in government or opposition, fired or brand new. But you know your leader. You love her or him. Yes. He or she will be prime minister. You will put him or her there. And the money will flow from every side.

Either way, you are damn vex or not taking on former senate president Timothy Hamel-Smith’s call for voters to spoil their ballots.

But wait, you, yes you, might not feel like voting this year. You may be older, and you tried a thing with NAR which seemed to break the mould of tribal voting, which ushered in a mature, more transparent, more inclusive politics of transparency, of development and issues. You tried the COP, which tried the same thing as the NAR and disintegrated under the weight of the pull of the treasury and tribal politics.

You might be thoroughly disillusioned. You may plan not to vote. You may be inclined to listen to the call by Timothy Hamel-Smith on Whatsapp groups to spoil the ballot by writing ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA), to send a strong message to the incoming government that we need constitutional reform that moves away from ‘winner takes all’ and we need it now.

Many citizens are annoyed at Hamel-Smith. You can see the antagonism against him growing. Voting is a constitutional right, and the core of democracy.

But you, you who are undecided, you who’ve longed for vigorous debate in the interest of the people, you who want procurement legislation instead of a mommy or daddy state, you who want constitutional change so our society is not split in the middle between the gloating and the deeply disenfranchised—you may be tempted with NOTA.

Voting NOTA may feel like an act of recalcitrance, but in fact, it may not be.

The people have been kicked about like a football between parties since independence, abused, rewarded, neglected, but never empowered to stand on our own two feet, never encouraged to learn skills that will make us independent, never been properly educated, either in literacy, or our rights, or what it takes to be a healthy people. Hamel-Smith is a lone voice. It threatens our collective sense of security. We follow the big bands. His is a lone show.

Hamel-Smith wrote: “Strange there are countries in which NOTA is actually an option on the ballot paper because parties want to know the extent of dis­­­­­­­­satis­fac­tion. What is being said is that there is such a huge groundswell of dissatisfaction that it can actually make a difference to election outcome. That is only one more reason why the time is right to vote NOTA.

“Unless there is a prefe­r­ence for a different type of protest. Strangely not a single person has ventured to suggest first-past-the-post is fair but still want the status quo. If you cannot get parties to listen now when will they listen? I have promoted fair vote for five years. I hand delivered to every parliamentarian a paper in ‘Making Every Vote Count’.

“Not a whimper and it is being suggested this is wrong time. It is the only time to start the process to bringing back T&T into being a Democratic Nation. Vote NOTA to save the soul of the Nation.”

It’s true, the idea of voting NOTA feels like an act of intransigence, undemocratic. Also, we like to join big bands. But then again, how democratic will tomorrow’s results feel when more than half the country will be plunged into gloom?


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