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No one can pull wool over our eyes

Sunday, September 13, 2015

One sweet thing about this election (and there are many) which ushered in Dr Keith Rowley, the leader of the Peoples National Movement (PNM) as the seventh Prime Minister of T&T on September 7, 2015, is that now people will have to learn to pronounce the name of his attorney general, Faris ‘Al-Ra-wi,’ instead of Al Wari. I saw a presenter do it on the news, very carefully as if she was walking on eggshells.

Frivolity over, I must congratulate the new Prime Minister, the Hon Dr Keith Rowley, on leading his party to victory in the September 7 general election.

I feel prevailed to do so as probably does every civic citizen to make up for the fact that outgoing PM, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been unable to bring herself to utter the Prime Minister’s name, far less call him to congratulate him as convention requires.

A creative writing tutor and author once told me that if you want to find out the true mettle of any character in fiction, put a gun to their head. In other words, put them under pressure. I saw this in real life and like the rest of the nation, was astonished to see that there was no ‘concession’ in the former PM’s concession speech. We gathered that she would not have done anything different in the past five years, or during the campaign, that she has no regrets, that her party got the largest number of overall votes (Persad-Bissessar is feeling the pinch of dragging her feet on constitutional reform—specifically in proportional representation).

She delivered the formulaic words of a defeated leader in a democratic country, woodenly, simultaneously telling people to accept the results while saying her partnership got more overall votes.

At best, it was an example of bad manners to her supporters who, as she knows, make up more than half of the electorate. She demonstrated a pugnacious pride. Perhaps she felt that grace in defeat in public office would be equated with weakness? When she touched the feet of the President of India, I lauded her for her humility. After all, she pledged to serve the people of this country. All the people. Supporters and non supporters.

What happened on the night of September 7? At worst, it did nothing to stem the online racist rants by her following.

The next day, again, the former PM put herself and her party above the best interests of the people. Uncaring of further destabilising and igniting a racially fired up country, she challenged the Elections and Boundaries Commission to declare the September 7 general election results null and void.

We are not surprised because the campaign, the party, the Government was all blurred into the face of the leader, stamped on cups, T-shirts, walls, billboards, placards, and so on.

It’s dribbling out now. The ‘ideology’ and ‘policy’ of the People’s Partnership campaign, according to the former national security minister Gary Griffith was run like coke ad—‘coke is it, so let’s go, Kamla is it’. This was the basis of ‘Kamlamania’ where ministers were instructed to praise Persad-Bissessar in every public appearance. The entire campaign was based not on issues affecting people, not on the merit of various candidates, but on brainwashing, propaganda, treating the people like sheep.

Remember Kamla donning a hard hat to inspect flooded areas as her first act as PM five years back? She was going to be the people’s prime minister, we all thought with joy. How did it end? She didn’t think her supporters worthy of her presence at Rienzi Complex after her election defeat.

Some years back, at the Bocus Literary Festival, a visiting scientist gave us a fascinating lecture about power. It appears that before people get into power their intentions are pure. They want to serve the country. They want to improve the lives of the vulnerable, the ill, elderly and jobless. They want to provide education and health. They want to create strong institutions. They want citizens to feel secure. They want to clamp down on crime. What happens when they taste power? They are flooded with chemicals of well-being, which fills them with a heady hubris similar to people on cocaine. That explains the proud pumped out chests a few months into power. It explains the mistakes. It explains the inability to see their own flaws. It explains their intolerance of people who try to correct them.

All eyes are on the new PM, Dr Rowley. He has been hailed by President Carmona as a true statesman for his victory address, and further complemented by the president for “an address whose motif was one of genuine inclusivity to all, highlighting service to the country and that we the people of T&T are one.”

On the whole, we have to be proud of ourselves as a small island nation. All seven elections have been free of violence. Words are thrown and we are riddled with inefficiencies (such as the swearing-in fiasco,) but we remain a tolerant people. We are also getting less stupid, less sheeplike with every election. No one can pull the wool over our eyes with public relations. People now demand substance.

Perhaps the Prime Minister can take the example of Obama, who despite being one of the most powerful men in the world, remains statesmanlike. He resisted the cocaine-like rush of power and we hope Dr Rowley will too, and remain statesman like for the next five years.


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