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The Jack factor


Peter W. Wickham

The Jack factor

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JACK WARNER’S recent victory in Chaguanas West was not predictable (although it was predicted) since independent politicians and third parties have not prevailed in Caribbean politics recently and this has much to do with the selfish nature of our politics.
Generally people vote for people who can “do something for them” and as such the candidate is merely seen as a vehicle of his party which delivers the political “goodies”.  Generally the party’s fate determines the constituencies’ fate and if an analysis of safe seats were done, it would perhaps reveal that the disaggregation of the party from the candidate invariably leads to the demise of the candidate.
It is important to recall two key incidents in the Caribbean’s past, one of which occurred in St Lucia where the daughter of former Prime Minister John Compton, defected from the UWP, ran in her father’s seat as an Independent and lost. There is also the case of much revered Hulsie Bhaggan who “crossed swords” with Basdeo Panday and was therefore forced to contest the Chaguanas safe seat under the MUP banner and lost to a UNC candidate that Panday hand-picked.
Against this background, Warner has presented this region with one of very few contemporary examples of a candidate defeating his/her former party in a stronghold. He joins former Vincentian Prime Minister James Mitchell in this elite club, but under slightly different circumstances.
Mitchell won a seat in the Grenadines, which is for all intents and purposes more like a village and his ability to capture 1 330 votes in 1972 could be understood as long as one appreciates how 3 000 voters could be influenced in those times.
Influencing 25 000 voters (as Warner did) is an entirely different matter which would require substantially deeper pockets as well as conducive local and national political factors. These factors were important in convincing voters that Warner “could do something for them”.
Their endorsement of Warner therefore was a most unusual commendation of an MPs performance and a clear demonstration that constituents felt that as an individual (with a new party) he could continue to serve their interest better than a UNC MP.  
Their choice was therefore as much an endorsement of Warner as it was an expression of their belief that the Partnership in its present configuration could or would do little for them over the next two years.
The other factor which makes Warner’s victory historic is the fact that  he is an Afro-Trinidadian who presented himself to a largely Indo-Trinidadian community and won their support.
This is the type of political development that those of us who appreciate the extent to which race is a convenient tool that Trinidadian politicians have abused for years, get excited about. It does not however mean that racial politics in Trinidad is now at an end. Instead, voters have sent a signal that race alone will no longer determine the fate of political parties, especially in situations where voters are given good reasons to cross racial lines.
An individual who presents herself as a political analyst recently suggested that Warner’s victory would not threaten the Partnership government simply because he did not have the numbers to threaten her 26/27-strong government in a parliament of 42.
In reality, Warner’s victory does threaten the Persad-Bissessar government in every way possible, if one understands the role Warner has played in the UNC’s and Trinidad and Tobago’s politics. This is the second major test Persad-Bissessar has failed and she will shortly face at least one more major test (local government) before she faces her major challenge in 2015.
Her lack of success in these tests are psychologically devastating to her team in an environment where Persad-Bissessar’s political objective is to create a legacy for herself by being re-elected. This objective will be made considerably more difficult now Warner is no longer there providing financial support and helping to boost the image of the UNC as a flamboyant Afro-Trinidadian front-line member of the UNC’s team.
At the slightly less obvious level is the role that Warner can now play as an alternative political home for the UNC and COP’s politically weary such as former Justice Volney.  One cannot for one moment forget that Persad-Bissessar has already dismissed four ministers and like Volney, several of these have thus far had little to say, largely because there were few options available to them.
In an environment like this, one should never presume that Warner’s victory might yet galvanize sufficient momentum to bring an early end to this partnership government, although he himself might not emerge victorious in such circumstances. It is a fundamental error to assume that Warner’s actions are predicated on his desire or ability to become “king”; to my mind he has always desired to be more of a “king-maker” than a king.
 • Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and  a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES); [email protected] caribsurf.com.

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