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Prime Minister of the People’s National Congress
Well, it’s all over now, bar the shouting of recriminations, and what a long, strange trip it’s been, and with curry, as the Grateful Dead might have said, had they witnessed the bizarre election campaign of our rightly outgoing government. If a country truly gets the government it deserves, the last one makes us uncaring, unprincipled, perpetually seeking personal aggrandisement and spiteful to the core.
As every government we’ve ever had has ended, no matter how optimistically (People’s Partnership) or idealistically (National Alliance for Reconstruction, 1956 People’s National Movement) it started.
And just as the new one we’ve just elected is likely to end, unless it does two things no government of ours has been able to before: 1. put country before crony; and 2. spend only the money earned by T&T. (Our budget would instantly go from US$10 billion annually to a tiny fraction of that; represented graphically, our earned national budget would look like those old analogue TVs, whose screens, when you pressed the “off” button, rapidly collapsed inwards into a tiny white dot before disappearing altogether.)
There were many reasons Kamla & Cabal had to go (more even than there were for Patos and his Pappyshow) but one stood out above—below—all others, even by the shocking lack of standards in what we call our politics. The deliberate abuse of Parliamentary privilege to heap scurrilous, malevolent lies on Keith Rowley and his forebears was the lowest moment in our Parliament’s history, plunging the country deeper into shame than even the gratuitously cruel treatment, in the same House, of one of our hardest-working MPs, Pamela Nicholson.
Long after people have forgotten all the other excesses, that act will define the last government. No one with any decency should have—could have—defended it; people who toed that abominable party line should now allow their self-disgust to rise; and apologise, privately, to the public figure they treated so callously.
To his credit, Keith Rowley handled what surely had to be an unbelievable, incomprehensible, unjustifiable personal attack with grace; there is a sweet irony in the attack his detractors hoped would destroy him actually making him stronger; and making him appear more dignified to everyone else.
If, against the run of all the play we’ve had so far, five years from now (or two years sooner, if the Patrick Manning Election Manual is followed), the nation re-elects the PNM, we may look back at that vicious, totally unnecessary personal attack as the moment that made the statesman of Keith Rowley.
And let’s seriously firetrucking hope he has become a statesman.
God knows the country needs it.
With half the electorate choosing not to vote at all in what was (yet another) critical election—every five years we have to rescue ourselves from our government—and with almost half the votes that were cast being cast against them, the PNM has taken office with 25 per cent of the votes they might have.
Not even in North Korea would they have the cojones to call that a mandate.
As long as I have been writing in the papers—from Ash Friday 1988, to now—I have been accused of being “anti-government.” I’m flattered that the label has been applied to me by every administration we’ve ever had—if you offend everyone, you’re clearly non-partisan—but the truth is I am not anti-government; indeed, I am strongly in favour of government. Sadly, I’ve not seen any evidence of it in the last 27 years.
But I live in hope.
As do all of us who are heartily glad that the last occupants of the Great House of Parliament have been ejected.
As we all will be in five years, when we eject the new set as forcibly, as ignominiously and as disappointedly as we have all the old ones.
Only one thing can prevent the electorate from rising up against its government—and that is actual government!
Dr the Hon Keith Rowley has the chance to be the first of our prime ministers ever to actually rule the nation.
Which he can do only if he brings into the process the very people he has just worked hard to dislodge.
The ideal result of this election would have been, for me, PNM, 20 seats, UNC, 20 seats, Errol Fabien as PM. Our Parliament would have been forced to actually function as a house of representatives, instead of Cabinet’s rubber stamp.
But I’ll settle for PNM 23, UNC and Prakash, 18, if our Prime Minister can understand and live up to his status of “primus inter pares”—first among equals.
And those equals include the people on the other side of the floor—without whom we are not “us.”
If Keith Rowley is not to fail us all, he must become the prime minister of the People’s National Congress.
For more than a quarter of a century, I’ve remained idealistic enough to continue writing in the papers. I remain optimistic enough today to believe Keith Rowley could be the one to lead us out of the corner into which we’ve repeatedly painted ourselves. Our people, our place, can’t take another five years of what we’ve always had so far. We just can’t take a bald Patrick Manning or a Kamla with a right hand that could cuff anybody down.
The maximum leader must transform himself into the exemplar, the dictator into the diplomat and the boss-man must put his shoulder to the national wheel alongside the rest of the sufferers.
Or we’ll all remain stuck right where we always have been.
BC Pires is the profit of Sisyphus. You can email your “Rowley is a dictator” to him at [email protected]
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