Trinidad’s big tent politics should be instructive to the opposition in Guyana

Dear Editor,
The news from Trinidad and Tobago, that a ‘big tent’ coalition of all opposition forces will contest the next general elections in May, is something that the opposition forces in this country should keep a keen eye on. The opposition forces in T&T, I notice, include the NJAC, a movement I was quite aware of since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when that organization gave strong support to our struggle against racialism in Montreal by mounting vigorous demonstrations in T&T. This new coalition also includes representatives from Tobago who can bring votes to ensure an electoral victory for Ms Bissessar.

The chief impediment to this coalition, Mr Panday, has been derailed and his political career is over after many years of sowing confusion and division in the opposition, while trying to butter his own bread at the expense of the citizens of that proud and progressive island nation.

The key to a big tent success is the choice of  coalition leader and the candidate for prime minister of T&T. Ms Bissessar has shown a remarkable resilience and dexterity in handling the politics of opposition and in dethroning Panday; she has shown a remarkable restraint in handling the irascible Panday and putting him in his place, which is in retirement and solitude after the trouble he has caused in creating a viable and successful opposition; she has shown a remarkable ability to seize the moment by formulating rapidly a big tent in the face of Mr Manning’s early call for fresh elections, and the momentum he tried to generate for his own cause; she has shown a very keen interest in the consultative process, trying to be inclusive and involved in wide-ranging talks with potential allies as the elections approach; she has shown toughness and spirit in the face of a strong party which holds the reins of power; and Editor, she has shown that she is a winner against long odds and therefore could pull off an upset win come the general election.

Even if she loses the election, her big tent could be an inspiration to the opposition in Guyana because by coalescing the opposition, she’s already a winner.

The events in T&T should be instructive to all the opposition forces here in Guyana. Some, like Mr Eric Phillips, say that we need constitutional changes for shared governance before the next general elections in 2011 and that a big tent is a waste of time.

They are wrong because the politicians who rule the roost, will never agree to such a scenario. Constitutional changes for a resulting shared coalition government can only come with an electoral victory of a big tent opposition and no way else (unless this government sees such wisdom) and that is why if the big tent under Ms Bissessar wins the T&T election, it could gather momentum for such an arrangement in this country, and real changes for our citizens.

As we are seeing in T&T, the formation of a big tent involves the burying of egos and personal aspirations in order to gain a consensus candidate to achieve a national agenda which is free from everyone’s personal ambition; a consensus candidate is one who simply can draw more votes, while showing skills at compromise and the placement of determined and qualified personnel in positions of responsibility and power.

Editor, in Guyana, such a candidate would have to show cross-ethnic pull, determination to change the constitution and all which derives from it, creative vision to entrust the future to our young people by real action in placing them in important positions of governance, an ability to inspire the citizens to greater horizons and lastly, the candidate for president must have a passion to stamp out corruption and  must project that he or she would tolerate nothing short of – as President Cheddi said – a lean, clean and mean government.

Editor, the important question facing the electorate in Guyana in the near future is that of shared coalition governance with a centerpiece of unity of purpose, blended with fairness and a sense of ‘us not them,’ of ‘our country and only ours,’ of  ‘for all our children’ and ultimately of ‘God’s gift to all Guyanese.’

Yours faithfully,
Cheddi (Joey) Jagan (Jr)

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