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Dear Keith Rowley

Published: 
Friday, September 4, 2015

Three days before an election it looks like you’ll win—or, in probably more accurate T&T terms, three days before a bone-weary electorate ejects yet another bonehead government that deserves to lose—I want to suggest to you that you could become the first real statesman we ever produced. Here’s how simple it is:

The outgoing government, in (what we must take to be their conviction that they are acting in) their wisdom, has reduced Monday’s election to a single issue: you. They have spent six months and many, many more millions of dollars trying to convince us all that the country would collapse if you became prime minister. (It is not true, of course, if only because the country collapsed a long time ago; but I dare not suggest you could not make it worse, for we have thought just that about every government we’ve changed since 1986: that the new one could not possibly be worse; and have found out, exquisitely painfully, they all are.)

You can achieve instant political immortality, and genuinely save the country, at your last rally at the Eddie Hart Ground tomorrow by resigning as political leader of the PNM, while remaining the candidate for Diego Martin West. Whoever you hand the reins to, pending approval of the party in general meeting, will romp home on Monday morning, with the UNC campaign instantly and totally unhorsed.

Far more important, in one selfless act of real patriotism, you would have put to death the great cancer of our body politic: the maximum leader. Your political leader-suicide would mark the birth of a nation, or its first real possibility; and everyone—including diehard, dyed-in-the-curry UNCs—would rally around you. 

Underneath all the free jerseys and primal tribal adherence, we are mostly one people, united by a genuine search for a way forward for all of us; and, since 1956, we have been offered only the same old shiretrit that has always failed us in the past, and certainly will fail us in the future, unless and until we put a stop to the self-harm ourselves.

We are no longer chattel slaves and illiterate indentures. We no longer need a plantation owner or Governor-General or warlord or dictator or messiah to save, protect and deliver us from ourselves. We are a people, or are trying our best to become one. There are far more of us who care more for T&T than for Afro-or Indo-or Other-personal advantage within it. We need, now, a statesman who will challenge us to rise to the responsibilities of citizenship, not a gang leader who will give us a share in the loot of partisanship. To give up your own privilege for the betterment of all would make you our first real exemplar.

But, of course, you will not do that. You are a product of the neocolonialism out of which you arose and, just as the PNM could not accommodate your (or anyone’s) leadership challenge to Patrick Manning years ago, it could not accommodate Penelope Beckles’ challenge to you last year. If you were not convinced that you were the PNM’s best hope—as Patrick Manning was that he was—you would not have striven to dominate it. You could not be in the position you are now if you saw its disadvantages to us all instead of the advantages for yourself.

But you must know, in your heart of hearts, that the PNM—and, indeed, T&T—would be better off if the talents of Penny, as well as yours, and, indeed, Patrick’s, were available to it.

If, however, you will not achieve greatness by resigning and thereby illustrating that anyone legitimately at the head of a real movement may lead it, you should at least do your best to avoid mediocrity being thrust upon you.

One thing is certain: if you do become PM and continue as all your predecessors have, which is to say, without making radical changes, you will share their fate: five years from now (or sooner, if you follow the example of your own erstwhile political leader), the electorate will have no choice but to get rid of you, the same way it has unceremoniously dumped all its earlier disappointments.

You are also likely to find, this time Tuesday morning, that the national coffers are as bare as your own head, but it won’t look as good on the Treasury. And, if the world economic downturn turns into a free-fall, it will certainly put an end to Trinidad’s own free-for-all.

Still, you can become the first prime minister of T&T who did not make the entire country nostalgic for the one before him, or her, although that one was called a dunce/a megalomaniac/a thief/a drunk/a nepotist/an opportunist/a parasitic oligarch/all of the above.

The best thing that ever happened to us, politically, was the tied election, the 18-18 that ought to have forced our Parliament to function as a parliament for the first time. Unless there is a God to put a hand with an almighty X against the name of Gayelle front man and independent candidate Errol Fabien, in St Joseph, though—and there isn’t—we won’t have anything other than a straight win for either the PNM or the UNC trading as the PP.

But I want to suggest that, even if you are returned with an absolute majority, you approach the task of government as if it had been 20-20 and Errol played a citizen rather than a kingmaker mas in St Joseph.

It is your only chance of becoming the first prime minister we will keep, X years from now.

n BC Pires is a closet citizen. You can email your naughts-and-Xs to him at [email protected]

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