Perhaps it’s the recession, but honeymoons don’t seem to linger as long they once used to. In no time flat, the People’s Partnership is having to buckle down to the serious task of running the country under the demanding gaze of an impatient electorate, insistent on delivery from their daily dread.
Fortunately, there is an impending respite in the form of this month’s Local Government election which could cover the multitude of sins that could afflict the unprepared.
For the next three weeks or so, we could expect to be entertained, though perhaps not as royally as we were by the dramatic theatre of the general election.
But, eventually, buckle down we all must. The madness of Manning’s methods has left a tangle of decisions that could confuse and distract the business of government for years. If the Persad-Bissessar administration is not careful about keeping focused, it could end up chasing ghosts for the rest of its life and, in the process, becoming a ghost itself
Since 1986, when we began changing government with regularity, there has not been an administration that has not been surprised by the reality of being in office. Invariably, the Treasury is more empty than was suspected; contractual obligations more onerous than expected; the steepness of the learning curve to have been much more respected.
With the treadmill on high-speed, the prime minister has moved herself front and centre of national life, assuming proportions larger than life, perhaps in hopes that her back is broad enough to shield the stumbles and fumbles of a team trying to get its act together. Invariably, some are more successful than others. Thus can maximum leaders be born, as the key asset is transformed, over time, into the only asset and when the relationship between leader and led becomes so direct that it precludes mediation by all else.
But this is 2010, not 1956 and Kamla Persad-Bissessar has the advantage of the accumulated degree of self-knowledge that our philosophers and poets have distilled over the course of roughly 50 years of Independence. It would be devastating if she were to encourage our sick relationship with power to derail the growing instinct towards participation and representation. If she did, we might discover that One Woman rule is far more potent than One Man rule if only because of the complication of the Mother complex.
Across the aisle, inside the PNM, Keith Rowley retires the Rottweiler as he prepares to take on the challenge of his life. It won’t be easy. The PNM’s assumptions of being the natural party of government run too deep for engaging the challenges of modern Trinidad and Tobago. As successive administrations of the PNM and others, have shown, electoral success can be a stunting experience as the world divides along the simple lines of those who have and those who want. Without the twin warriors of Death and Defeat , it is hard to see what in the PNM would have allowed conditions for a change of leader. Were it similarly afflicted by the disease of office, the UNC, too, would have remained in thrall to the leadership cult of the weak that produced and sustained a Patrick Manning.
Together, Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Keith Rowley represent an opportunity for evolution of the politics. Both have found their way onto the front stage of T&T’s politics at a time when the entire world is grappling for a more relevant philosophy of government. In a world of better educated people living beyond borders, the old order of geo-sovereignty and representative politics is fading into irrelevance as people move beyond the pale of government to represent themselves.
In theory, at least, both leaders have what it takes to strike up new conversations with this nation. Apart from the instincts of their own individual intelligence, there has not been enough in their political experience to prepare them for the world in which they are called to lead. As Manning showed, you can’t buy it; as Panday showed, you can’t wing it.
Kamla is the luckier of the two. While career and office have combined to shelter Keith Rowley, she experienced the vicissitudes of the hard knock life of opposition. Even moreso than Kamla, Rowley needs to discover what he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know- an impossible journey if one is trapped in a concept of leadership that requires one to simply look and sound the part while waiting for the government to implode.
But every moment of change is an opportunity for hope. Despite the nonsense being spewed about strategic planning etc from certain PNM quarters, one remains hopeful that the Rowley leadership will reach beyond Machiavelli and the corporate life to begin to ground the party in the real politics of T&T.
Trinidad and Tobago needs a resurrection of the engagement of ideas if the politicians it produces are to arrive in office with even a minimal grasp of the challenges that go beyond the sharing of spoils. The idea that one could land in office and survive on a daily diet of expert advice is a recipe for national indigestion. Above all, those who aspire to public service through electoral politics need to have a coherent understanding of what makes this place and its people tick- the modern imperatives that derive from its history, its topography, its ecology, its cultural tributaries and how they have shaped the water courses of our lives. And more… so much more.
May a million conversations begin.