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‘Uncle Jack’s the man’
Tomorrow may be a defining day in the political future of the colourful and controversial Austin “Jack” Warner. If he is victorious in the epic showdown in the heartland of Chaguanas West it will signal not only a new dawn for politics in T&T, but also a revival for the man who is labelled by the people as “Uncle Jack” because of his many contributions to the constituency.
For 70-year-old Warner, interim political leader of the newly-formed Independent Liberal Party (ILP), the sun could shine brightly according to several people interviewed last Tuesday and Wednesday. One constituent said, “He is a man for the people and always with the people.” The former Fifa vice-president, government minister and chairman of the United National Congress (UNC) served as MP since 2007 but resigned in April this year.
His youthful opponents in the fight for representation of the people are Khadijah Ameen, acting UNC chairman, and Avinash Singh of the People’s National Movement (PNM). But the people who spoke with the Sunday Guardian said Ameen’s only asset was that she represented the traditionalist UNC voter and was not known for delivery of services to people. As for Singh, they believed he was unlikely to amass sufficient votes that would impact the election.
The preferred choice of candidate was Warner. Constituents argued that despite the allegations of corruptions surrounding Fifa and Concacaf, he was “the man.” The Sunday Guardian traversed areas such as Pierre Road, Felicity, Munroe Road, Warner Village, Bejucal, Warren and Frederick Settlement. Other areas like Charlieville, La Paille and Orchard Gardens also form Chaguanas West. While many people spoke freely and willing, they refused to give their names or be photographed.
Warner the performer
In almost every nook and cranny people uttered the same sentiment. “Warner is the man.” “Warner is a performer.” “Warner do for we.” “The man perform.” It was mid-morning on Tuesday. Caroni Savannah Road and environs were bustling. A group of people was gesturing on the sidewalk as they walked with their ILP jerseys in hand. Two aged men standing by the newly-opened gas station in Charlieville were engaged in a conversation. They gave their names as Hemdath and Praim.
Asked how they felt about the by-election, Hemdath wasted no time in replying. “They cyah put nobody else here. People only want to talk but they eh know what kind ah work Warner do. “We get road and drain. He take money and hold all sort of celebrations in the year. “Warner coming back right here in Chaguanas West.” Praim agreed. He said Warner was determined to help people, and he was content with that. “Nobody could say Warner turn he back on them here.”
Warner’s empty promises
The majority may have showered praises on Warner but there were still those who said they were “die-hard” UNC supporters. They swore by the UNC, it didn’t matter who was the candidate. While Warner delivered proper roads and drains, some said they were still many projects and plans he promised that did not materialise. The fishing depot and cremation site in Felicity were two such plans, said Ramnaresh Dowtlal.
He said, “I can tell you what Warner didn’t do. He promised to build the fishing depot—nil; he promised to do the cremation site—nil; he promised to host a five-day Divali celebration in Felicity—never happened; he promised to get a health centre in Connector Road—never happened. “He also promised to do a Ramleela Cultural Centre in Felicity—never happened.” But the others said they benefited from drainage, street lights and a recreational ground.
One man said Warner was instrumental in getting sponsors for groups such as the Invaders Cricket Club, Shree Krishen Mandir and Felicity Police Youth Club. “Not to mention when we had deaths in the village he would take money out of his pocket to help the people,” the man said.
Dowtlal said he was a lifetime member of the UNC and that his parents and grandparents worked hard “to build this honourable party.” In a ten-minute period, four music trucks drove past along Cacandee Road. Three were UNC and one was ILP. An elderly man on a bicycle pulled to the roadside and hurled obscenities at the ILP truck blasting Hindi film song O Jaane Jaan.
‘Ameen is a stranger’
A Ministry of Health worker said he had no plans to support Ameen. “I just don’t like the UNC candidate,” he said. For him she was a total failure and a stranger to the area. “I will not vote for her,” he said. At a shop on Francis Lalla Road, a man in a parlour said Warner had out-performed himself. He said Ameen did not have a genuine interest in the people and could never fill Warner’s shoes.
A young man in Felicity said he would never support the UNC because of the way it treated Warner. “Warner delivers on his promises so why we going and vote for Khadijah? “She is a failure and a non-performer who trying to fight a man who there and who perform. He will not stop performing.” In Chaguanas, a woman said the UNC would fall apart because of tomorrow’s results. “I am a woman, but I will not support her. I don’t even know anything about her.”
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