A political development of unimaginable proportions has taken place in Trinidad. It amounts to nothing less than a political earthquake, and the aftershocks are likely to be felt far outside the boundaries of that country.
In short, the victory of Jack Warner, the embattled former UNC powerhouse, in Monday’s run-off elections for the Chaguanas West seat represents a seismic shift in the politics of Trinidad and possibly the multi-ethnic countries of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Warner’s victory is amazing in many respects. He decimated the field. Chaguanas West was always considered a safe UNC seat. It is located in the heartland of UNC support and was widely expected to go to the UNC easily, regardless of who they chose to put up against Jack. That did not happen and demonstrates that we may be in a stage where historical political loyalties are wearing thin. But it was the margin of victory that was truly astounding. Jack, whose party is a mere weeks old, collected close to seventy per cent of the votes cast.
Jack is not just back. He is back with a bang! No one could have said that they had anticipated this result. After all, Jack’s political fortunes seemed just a short while ago to be on the low. He has been surrounded by controversy after controversy. He has hardly been out of the news; from his problems with FIFA to the soliciting of donations for staff parties, Jack has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons and his candidacy seemed to be just an attempt at making a decent exit.
Even on the campaign trail, his problems did not end. One Guyanese lawyer went onto his platform and made a speech that was well received. A few nights later he went on again but this time created mass indignation, forcing Jack himself to publicly dissociate himself from the statements made and to issue an apology.
Jack has responded in a resounding fashion. All that has turned around in what must be the greatest political comeback known in history. It is a development that will be talked and discussed about for weeks, and one that may now see the People’s Partnership crumble. Already there is talk about a possible defection which can affect the majority held by the People’s Partnership.
It is hard at this stage to say what was responsible for this political earthquake and just what it fully represents. Saying that it means the end of ethnic voting may, however, be too optimistic. After all the PNM did disastrously, gaining a mere handful of votes in the run-off elections for the seat.
Does it signal disaffection with the People’s Partnership? It’s too early to say this, but as many observers have pointed out, the partnership seems now to be in serious problems because Chaguanas West was seen as a sure victory for the UNC candidate, who even was supported by the Congress of the People.
The Congress of the People has described Warner’s victory as a dangerous development, with money trumping issues as a decider in voter appeal. But is this really the case? Or is Jack Warner the consummate politician, a political maverick, the likes of which has never been before? He certainly makes Forbes Burnham look like a boy scout.
The results of the elections show the importance of having popular politicians, of the value of politicians being close to the people, because despite all the problems that Jack Warner has had, he has never abandoned the people and remains, to the end, deeply loved for what he does for his constituents.
This perhaps is the greatest lesson that will emerge from Warner’s victory. It is a lesson that once you do things for the people, they will reward you with their votes, but if you sit in high office and do not come down to the level of the people, they will not support you. Jack stayed close to his constituents and even though he left the UNC, the party which traditionally enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the people of Chaguanas West, the people still loved him.
Interestingly, Jack’s victory comes as the ruling People’s Progressive Party is preparing for its Congress this coming weekend. It has been reported that the former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, has been nominated for membership of the Central Committee of the party. He has been out of the public limelight and this has led to speculation that he may have retired from active local politics.
So if Jack is back, what about Bharrat? Will he make a comeback too?
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