Taking Trinidad’s Political Temperature

Submitted by Mark T Jones – London-based writer and commentator on International Affairs
MP Herbert Volney resignation from the UNC has triggered a bi-election in St.Joseph

MP Herbert Volney resignation from the UNC has triggered a bi-election in St.Joseph

Those who routinely dismiss politics as boring have evidently never experienced elections in Trinidad & Tobago. With a key bi-election on 4th November 2013 things look certain to become hot, hot, hot.

St Joseph takes considerable pride in the fact that as San José de Oruña from 1592-1783 was the capital of Trinidad. The constituency is racially balanced, with a mixture of the comfortably off as well as those who struggle to make ends meet. St Joseph invariably acts as a bell-weather that enables local psephologists to gain a fair indication of what the mood of the country is. In addition this bi-election has added importance in that it was triggered by former MP Herbert Volney’s decision to resign from the United National Congress (UNC) and join the Independent Liberal Party (ILP). Such an important election has ensured that there has been considerable interest in the candidates and some appear to be far from run of the mill.

Crime and illegal activity has long been a pre-occupation and concern of the islands’ inhabitants and so it came of little surprise that TV6’s show Crime Watch proved to be so popular. The show ensured that its hosts Ian Alleyne and Om Lalla have become household names, a fact that both figures have sought to capitalise upon by entering the political arena. Alleyne, a man with an extremely high sense of his own worth and Lalla, a fiercely bright and ambitious individual forged a powerful partnership on screen and an extraordinary close friendship off screen. In television terms Crime Watch became something of a phenomenon, a show that with the additional credibility of the presence of Police Inspector Roger Alexander, appeared to be on a mission to become the scourge of criminal behaviour. For all their celebrity status, the two hosts as self proclaimed guardians of public safety have at times proved more than fallible. Alleyne has been no stranger to controversy having in the past compared himself with the Messiah. He demonstrated a gross error of judgement and extremely bad taste when the programme he fronted (and has the local rights too) showed footage of a teenage girl being raped with her face and that of the attacker clearly visible. The adverse reaction for TV6 was such that when his contract was up for renewal they chose not to renew it and he moved Crime Watch to CNC3.

Politics in Trinidad and Tobago is no stranger to characters with a bibulous Prime Minister and the ever artful Jack Warner on the scene things are definitely lively. Visibility and brand identity have become the name of the game and so it should come of no real surprise that media personalities, whether good, bad or indifferent have been courted by parties across the political spectrum. Alleyne ever the man of principle declared that he had no political aspirations or desire to enter the government even though the UNC allegedly offered him TT$ 250,000 to appear on its platform. A sizeable carrot in the form of the post of Minister for National Security is believed to have dangled by the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, yet still Alleyne insisted; “I am not for sale.” and denounced Jack Warner, the Founder and Leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) as a liar for suggesting otherwise. Who knows what brought about his own Damascene conversion, but on the very day that the nominations for candidature for the St Joseph’s bi-election had to be in Alleyne declared his hand and announced that he was willing to stand for the UNC. Local comedians had a field day, suggesting that Crime Watch change its name to The Price is Right and mocking Alleyne by saying he may not be for sale, but he is certainly for rent. The fall-out has apparently been even more far reaching in that Alleyne’s Crime Watch co-host who had long harboured political aspirations felt that he had been cheated out of the UNC candidature and as a consequence he has flounced off to stand for the ILP. As for Police Inspector Alexander he has been eager to disassociate himself from Alleyne. And people say politics is dull.

The People’s National Movement (PNM) have opted for a safe, stolid and seemingly uninspiring candidate in the form of Senator Terrence Deyalsingh. The sought of person who the residents of poorer neighbourhoods of the constituency such as Bangladesh would describe as stush. That said, for all the air of respectability that the PNM is keen to convey some of its party supporters have been more than happy to turn up at ILP meetings in PNM jersey’s carrying placards, something that has caused more than a few ripples of disapproval. Walkabouts and the obligatory photo-opportunities are as ever the meet and drink of elections. For a candidate who has made a name for himself exposing criminality, it seems somewhat incongruous that Alleyne appears happy to surround himself on his walkabouts with known bandits, drug lords and other members of the criminal fraternity. Recently one unfortunate resident who dared to announce that he had no intention of voting for Ian Alleyne was immediately set upon and repeatedly punch in the face, such was the atmosphere of menace and intimidation that the victim preferred not to report the incident to the police.

Students of politics in Trinidad & Tobago will of course be interested in the following five areas:

  • to study long-term trends in voting behaviour
  • to explain the election outcome
  • to explain party choice
  • to explain turnout
  • to examine the consequences of elections for the operation of democracy more generally

The mainstream media locally, especially the print media, appears only to be interested in the long established parties or those with deep pockets. This myopic approach means that they often neglect and overlook some of the other candidates. One of the most fascinating is Error Fabien, a man who has the potential to do for local politics what Beppe Grillo and Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement) has done for Italian politics. Fabien, whilst a well know figure, has known real hardship during his time and has chosen to stand as an independent. A comedian, media personality and entrepreneur in his own right he has set out to engage with those who the ruling elite often overlook or ignore. The fact that he was already well known meant that he found himself courted by a range of parties eager for him to stand on their ticket. The Congress of the People (COP), ILP, PNM and the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) all made approaches. The MSJ has subsequently decided to put up a candidate and have endorsed Fabien as the best candidate. The UNC chose to make a number of calls (Three in the space of three hours) to discourage him from standing. Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters, Member of Parliament for Mayaro and one time Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism was one of those who telephoned Fabien and informed him that in standing for election he would lose out professionally and financially. Fabien claims that his motivation for entering the political arena has been the current state of affairs within the constituency and beyond. “…the tone and absence of respect in Parliament undermines faith in the system” he says with conviction. “People have been failed by successive MPs and so it is essential that if I am elected I set about getting the job done.“ In common with other candidates he recognises that crime, marginalisation, discrimination and lack of employment opportunities are major pre-occupations. Anecdotally, Fabien’s modest and non-confrontational approach has already had a direct impact on the other candidates’ campaigns, all of whom have suddenly begun to endeavour to convey a more personal and emotional message.

Cynically the Government has recently issued Certificates of Comfort for many of the poorest people residing and in many cases squatting in the rundown district of Bangladesh. This is a particularly shameful ploy aimed at garnering votes under false pretences for unbeknown to local people these certificates such as they are do not meet the requirements for future development. Such a move is indicative of the utter contempt which some of those who walk the corridors of power have for those they are meant to serve. Parliamentary democracy in Trinidad & Tobago whilst not in crisis is certainly in desperate need of fresh blood and new ideas. Seasoned Red House (www.ttparliament.org) watchers frequently comment on the fact that the standards of conduct are not what they once were. Michael Lopez the Democratic National Assembly (DNA) candidate standing in St Joseph is one of a number of people who are advocating root and branch reform. The sense of disillusionment with the political establishment is creating series fissures within society. Furthermore widespread political corruption and paranoia in the Government is even said to have resulted in regular monitoring of the calls and communications of political rivals and other private citizens sanctioned by those in power and paid for by the State. The St Joseph bi-election campaign elucidates something of current challenges and should help give locals and the wider international community an insight into whether the country is prepared to put up with the status quo or decides to opt for a different approach. One thing is for certain, when the results are announced the Prime Minister Kamala Persaud-Bissesar can be relied upon to be defiant and more than likely ‘tired and emotional’ – hic.

12 comments

  • Based on what is going on in Trinidad, the UNC cant win the seat.

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  • What is not clear to BU is the role Jack Warner is playing. Why is he being regarded as a legitimate option by Volney and others.

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  • @David
    Both of them are not of the best repute. Didn’t Volney do something that was a no no by running for office having held a prominent position in the Civil Service in the legal area (my facts about the position are hazy, but I remember likening his action to that of David Simmons). Pure and simple, they are two pirates.

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  • i do not know who that part pig part Chinese is and i do not care either/!
    here is what i am talking about.David -may be they could carry out a study in Bridgetown. and all the clogged roads in barbados where cars idle away more gas than they use drive——-note barbados smoking ban stopping European tourist as they want be able to have a cigarette. thus barbados drop off in tourism.idiots!!!!!
    Air pollution nine-times deadlier than car crashes, UBC study finds
    Monday, October 21, 2013
    VANCOUVER – Chronic exposure to air pollution causes nearly nine times as many premature deaths in Canada as traffic crashes, University of B.C. researchers say in an article published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
    About 21,000 Canadians die prematurely from the ill effects of air pollution each year, compared to 2,400 from traffic crashes.
    The article is timely, coming as it does on the heels of last week’s declaration by the World Health Organization that air pollution is a carcinogen. Diesel fumes were previously deemed cancer-causing, but this is the first time air pollution as a whole has been classified as carcinogenic.
    In their provocative commentary in CMAJ, Michael Bauer and co-researchers Conor Reynolds and Perry Hystad said there’s an accumulating body of evidence showing negative health effects from traffic-related air pollution. They suggest various actions that may be taken, including copying European cities that levy fees on cars in congested areas to reduce traffic.
    Brauer, a professor in UBC’s school of population and public health, has spent years doing research on traffic-related air pollution and its effect on human health; much of it supported by grants from Health Canada.
    Air pollution is mainly associated with asthma, other lung conditions and cardiovascular diseases. Exhaust fumes from diesel, a known carcinogen, are tied to lung cancer. A 2008 federal report estimated that on an annual basis, there are 306 premature deaths, 1,158 hospital admissions, and 8,763 emergency department visits related to air pollution in B.C.
    Nearly a third of the country’s population lives within 500 metres of a highway or 100 metres from a major urban road, exposing them to toxic fumes from more than 15,000 cars per day, according to the CMAJ report. Such air pollution triggers “inflammation, oxidative stress and imbalance in the autonomic nervous system” which includes heart rhythm disturbances.
    The commentary highlights various options to help reduce the ill effects of traffic-related air pollution:
    • Reduce emissions by reducing traffic congestion and expanding infrastructure for electric cars.
    • Limit truck traffic to specific routes and separate cycling or walking routes from busy roads.
    • Improve land-use planning and traffic management by placing schools, daycares and retirement homes at least 150 metres from busy streets.
    Cities across Europe are leading the way when it comes to improving air quality and reducing vehicle emissions. London was the first major city in the world to introduce a congestion zone fee of 10 to 12 pounds for vehicles entering the city centre on weekdays. The fee has reportedly resulted in “an estimated gain of 183 years of life per 100,000 residents within the zone over a 10-year period,” Brauer said.
    Those who fail to pay the fee face a fine of 130 pounds.
    In Rome, the establishment of low emission zones has been estimated to have resulted in an even greater benefit: 921 years of life gained per 100,000 residents living near major roads over ten years. Brauer said Vancouver’s downtown area isn’t as congested as many large cities around the world but there are streets such as West Georgia, Knight and Kingsway that have plenty of congestion affecting air quality.
    “Situations like that are certainly of no benefit to anyone, whether we’re talking about drivers or residents,” he said in an interview.
    Asked to comment on the CMAJ article, Mayor Gregor Robertson agreed that reducing car congestion to improve air quality is an important goal.
    “Building a rapid transit line along Broadway is the key to reducing vehicle congestion and improving air quality in Vancouver. There are over 150,000 daily car trips along central Broadway and it is the busiest bus corridor in North America,” Robertson said in an email.
    “With a million more people moving to the Metro region in the coming decades, we simply can’t accommodate future growth by adding new cars and roads.”
    Dr. Menn Biagtan, program manager for the B.C. Lung Association, said in a previous interview: “We breathe 20,000 times a day, that’s 10,000 litres of air passing through our lungs – much of it a toxic soup of pollutants.”
    The WHO’s cancer agency, International Agency for Research on Cancer – said in 2010, there were more than 220,000 lung cancer deaths associated with air pollution around the world. The most polluted cities are in China and India where people often wear masks for protection.
    Sun Health Issues Reporter

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  • @ iabingy..Wish you had directed your post to a different thread or better yet made a topic of it. Though I’m not exactly sure how does tiny Barbados go about implementing these big city measures,it makes a very interesting read and could benefit from full ventilation.

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  • @David

    can u remove the article and make it a separate thread? I think it would be useful.

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  • Mark for a London-based writer you seem to have the plus on what takes place in Trinidad and Tobago?

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  • Never a dull moment in T&T politics.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    PNM DID IT TOO
    AG defends Alleyne’s 25 election projects in St Joseph
    By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com
    Story Created: Nov 1, 2013 at 9:39 PM ECT
    Story Updated: Nov 2, 2013 at 12:20 AM ECT
    People’s National Movement (PNM) candidates “crossed the line” in the last general election by directly using State resources in the election campaign.
    This was stated last night by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in his defence of Ian Alleyne undertaking some 25 projects in St Joseph and for which he has come under fire.
    Alleyne, the host of Crime Watch, is the United National Congress’s (UNC) candidate in Monday’s by-election.
    “Fleets from WASA, Petrotrin and other State enterprises were used to campaign and transport voters, CEPEP and URP were targeted and used to beef up crowds at their rallies and the advertising bill for the Government ran parallel to the PNM’s political ad campaign. Indeed they were strategically coordinated,” Ramlogan said of the PNM’s campaign in the last general election.
    The People’s Partnership advertising bill, he said, was less than half of what the PNM bill was when they were in office.
    Ramlogan maintained there is no illega­lity in Alleyne getting work done and presi­ding over State projects in the St Joseph constituency.
    Responding to concerns raised by former House speaker Nizam Mohammed, Ramlogan said the judgment he (Mohammed) referred to was not applicable to Alleyne. (See story below.)
    “The Abu Bakr case is irrelevant, as Mr (Yasin) Abu Bakr was not a candidate and the concern was the alleged arrangement between the PNM and Abu Bakr for him to terrorise and intimidate UNC supporters so that they will be intimidated and not go out to vote,” said Ramlogan.
    “In exchange for this, he was allegedly promised lucrative State contracts and Mr Manning did in fact attempt to give him the disputed parcel of land. Mr Alleyne is not a contractor, but simply a candidate who is responding to the desperate pleas from constituents who need urgent work because of the failure of the former member of Parliament,” Ramlogan added.
    He said it would be improper for the Government to cease work in any part of the country on the simple basis that there was a by-election.
    “During the period of the 18-18 tie when general election was inevitable and inescapable, the PNM emptied the Treasury even though they did not have a constitutional majority to validly spend money. No objection was heard from those who are now mounting this political platform against the UNC. It demonstrates political hypocrisy and politics of convenience,” said Ramlogan.
    Ramlogan said there was a bias against Alleyne and targeted attacks on him.
    “There is a manifest bias and malicious attitude towards Ian Alleyne because there are some who feel that a university degree and prerequisite for public office… They fail to appreciate his ordinary, humble touch with the common man, which is his greatest asset and political strength,” he said.
    Government, he said, has a duty to serve the people regardless of how the voting goes.
    He said it was obvious the neglect of a constituency would be highlighted during an election, but that does not mean it should be ignored because of the polls.
    Ramlogan said it was interesting the other candidates—the PNM’s Terrence Deyalsingh and the Independent Liberal Party’s Om Lalla—have not disclosed and they have not complained they asked for help from State agencies and were refused.
    “So the criticism of Ian is somewhat misplaced and fails to highlight their own inefficiency,” said Ramlogan.  http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/PNM–DID-IT-TOO-230293091.html

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  • Is there any proof yet that Jack’s money was gotten illegally?

    Man is innocent until proven guilty.

    Should David Simmons’s Report was of substance the Integrity Commission would have certainly by now had the DPP investigating Jack.

    Jack continues to land on his feet. I am not sure that he is splitting votes in TT – based on reports in the media TT is asking for an alternative to the PP government and the ILP was never a part of the coalition PP althoug Jack was.

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  • Is Ramlogan still AG because of his ethnicity?

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  • Let the record show that BU asked Jack Warner for a copy of the Affidavit filed against David Simmons a few weeks ago and he refused.

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  • Counting has started in the St. Joseph by-election:

    http://www.trinidadexpress.com/byelection

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