A double-edged sword

Jack Warner may have convincingly won the Chaguanas West by-election in Trinidad on Monday but there are arguably more losers than winners after this particularly nasty and game-changing political battle.

Obviously, the United National Congress (UNC) candidate, Khadijah Ameen, was simply  not up to the task of mounting a credible challenge to Mr Warner, who had previously won the seat in the 2010 general election, when he polled more votes than any other candidate in any other constituency. This time around, Mr Warner won 69 per cent of the votes cast to the hapless Ms Ameen’s 28 per cent. Observers contend that this was a victory based on Mr Warner’s performance as an MP and personal popularity over the tribalism of the UNC.

This then was a major defeat for the UNC, the principal coalition member in the People’s Partnership (PP) government, with a mainly East Indian support base, in a predominantly East Indian constituency – its “heartland,” as analysts in Trinidad are describing it. Again, Mr Warner’s win is being hailed as a triumph of representation over party, where it is the grass roots appeal of the candidate rather than the wishes of the party that sways the electorate.

All this and the fact that Mr Warner is an Afro-Trinidadian are now prompting claims that his resounding victory has brought about a “paradigm shift” in the politics of the country, as he has transcended race and party paramountcy to reclaim the Chaguanas West seat.

But Mr Warner would also appear to have finally dispelled the notion that moral rectitude is a desirable ingredient in politicians. After all, the disgraced Caribbean football supremo had been asked by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to resign as a minister on April 21, following allegations of financial mismanagement while he was CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president. He had then resigned as UNC chairman and MP for Chaguanas West, formed and financed out of his own pocket the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), shrugging off further allegations of questionable practices as a minister by his erstwhile colleagues, including the prime minister herself, to bounce back and trounce Ms Ameen and the UNC.

Thus, Mrs Persad-Bissessar was also a big loser, as she was very much upfront and personal in the campaign to discredit Mr Warner, lowering herself in the eyes of many, in a way that no head of government should. The choice of Mr Warner by the people of Chaguanas West is therefore a slap in the prime minister’s face.

By extension, in opting for Mr Warner’s ILP in defiance of Mrs Persad-Bissessar and the UNC, Chaguanas West effectively put the PP government on notice that people were not happy with its performance. The coalition itself now appears to be in serious trouble.

With Mr Warner’s re-election and the resignation from the UNC of disgruntled MP Herbert Volney, who was sacked as justice minister last September, the PP still enjoys a healthy parliamentary majority of 27 seats to the 12 held by the People’s National Movement (PNM).  The UNC’s share of seats, however, is now reduced to 19. In this respect, Ria Taitt, the political editor of the Trinidad Express, is of the view that “the ILP could serve as a rallying point for those who see themselves as marginalised within the coalition.”

The other major PP member, the Congress of the People, would also appear to have ruled out any sort of rapprochement with Mr Warner, declaring on Tuesday, “This victory represents a most dangerous development in the politics of our country. We have witnessed the emergence of a new vulgar concept of the politics of money based on the personal wealth of an individual versus politics of addressing of the issues as in 2010.”

Now, in light of this rejection and signals from the UNC that he would not be welcomed back to the PP, Mr Warner seems determined to go it alone with his new party, to take on both the PP and the PNM. With his personal wealth, folksy charm and proven political cunning, he cannot be written off, despite the murkiness of his financial dealings.

With local government elections due in October, Mr Warner’s upsetting of the political applecart in the twin-island republic has many people nervous about his intentions and possibilities. This “paradigm shift” may ultimately prove to be a double-edged sword for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

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