Politics of strange bedfellows: Jamaica and Trinidad examples By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
October 7, 2001

IN POLITICS, they say, all things are possible. And for the late President of Guyana, Forbes Burnham, for whom Machiavelli's `The Prince’ was his political bible, "politics is the science of deals".

Whatever concept readers subscribe to, we are certainly witnessing that all kinds of “deals” are possible in current political developments in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago with the dramatic emergence of strange political bedfellows.

The examples offered just last week by D.K. Duncan, the once flamboyant left-wing radical former General Secretary of the People's National Party (PNP) and, in Trinidad and Tobago, Ramesh Maharaj, the dismissed Attorney General, remind us only too well that surprises, inconsistencies and contradictions are constants in party politics.

Back in the 1970s when hard-line West Indian Marxists, among them the Jamaican, Grenadian and Guyanese varieties, were cynical even about the so-called bourgeois “democratic socialism” of Michael Manley as Prime Minister and PNP leader, one ran the risk of being verbally abused, if not worse, to jibe at the 'radicalism' of D.K. Duncan, Manley's former Minister of National Mobilisation.

It would have been incomprehensible at the time to suggest that this once hard-line loyalist of Manley, who had invested his populism in left-wing rhetoric and postures, would be robustly castigating, by September 2001, Manley's leadership and the policies of the then PNP administration on a fund-raising platform of Eddie Seaga's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Michael Manley must be turning in his grave, even as Seaga, much maligned by the likes of 'DK' - the once militant exponent of the gospel of socialism and virulent anti-imperialism - smiles all the way to coming new general election with high hopes of being Prime Minister again.

To read of Duncan's indictment in associating Manley and the PNP with “repressive laws and atrocities” of the 1970s when there were the emergence of the Gun Court and draconian legislation such as the Suppression of Crimes Act -official policies that were criticised by commentators in and out of Jamaica, including this columnist - is nauseating.

When did this modern day 'Saul' have his Damascus enlightenment to say with a bold face: “If five or ten of us in 1974 had said: 'Stop, it is fundamentally wrong and we are done with it (a culture of violence and the repressive laws), and decided to leave, it might have made a difference...”

What a show, DK! Pity your 'Damascus-like conversion took some 27 years. But Seaga is, nevertheless, happy, even as today's PNP leader and Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, is 'damn vex' with you and perhaps waiting to turn the heat on you when the real campaign begins for general election 2002.

Trini-style “deals”
Look out, also for similar politicking in Trinidad and Tobago where a snap poll long before Christmas is now inevitable in the face of a crisis of governance.

In the “all-things-are-possible” politics, there are also the Trinidadian politicians of the likes of ex-cabinet ministers Maharaj, Sudama and Maraj. And, of course, there’s Patrick Manning, leader of the main opposition PNM and a former Prime Minister.

They spent many years viciously decrying each other's politics, and for the 'mother of all elections' in December 2000, both the UNC and the PNM went for the jugular.

Now Manning and the trio of ex-UNC ministers are feverishly engaged in seeking to wrest power from Panday as Prime Minister and take charge of a new government - without going back to the electorate.

This is certainly not 'kosher politics' .No legitimacy in this display to grab power that one leading independent Senator and lawyer of Trinidad and Tobago has denounced as “wheeling and dealing” in total disregard for the Constitution. One can also add disrespect for decency.

To follow Maharaj's tantrums against his once beloved leader Panday, and the rationale he and the other ex-UNC ministers are now advancing to justify the alliance of expediency with the PNM, almost make DK Duncan's surprising behaviour at the JLP's fund-raising event lose some of its obnoxious opportunism.

Assuming, as leading constitutional experts and those schooled in multi-party democratic governance feel, that President ANR Robinson cannot grant the heart's desire of the PNM's Manning and Maharaj's party of three to form a new government while Panday remains the legitimate Prime Minister, then we may have to prepare for the coming backlash against both Manning and “dem three”.

Let it not be forgotten, that however widespread or deep alleged public sector corruption may be - and it must be exposed and eliminated - it is farcical and contemptuous for today's breast-beating Maharaj to be presenting himself as a credible crusader against corruption in a Panday-led administration of which he has been such an influential figure for so long.

It is to be wondered whether the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean Community in general would have known anything about Maharaj's anti-corruption crusade against his own party and government, had Panday not, on hindsight, committed the political 'faux pas' in ignoring him to act as Prime Minister following his election as UNC deputy leader.

That was a serious blunder by the otherwise crafty Panday. Maharaj's pride was severely wounded and he has been showing it in all its rawness since.

But the die is cast. The bitterness from both sides - Panday's and Maharaj's - have overflowed into anti-government wheeling and dealing to form a new government in Port-of-Spain above the heads of the electorate.

Will it happen? Not, I guess if the Constitution of the Republic triumphs over the politics of deals. If so - with or without a no confidence vote in parliament against Panday's government, we will be soon moving on to a very tense, no-holds-barred and vicious period of electioneering, since Panday has little room to manoeuvre for much longer without asking for the dissolution of parliament.

We will then see to what extent the PNM's own opportunistic embrace of Maharaj and the two other ex-'Pandayites' has become a burden that Manning may regret shouldering.

Likewise, for Maharaj, Sudama and Maraj, it will be a big surprise indeed if they - and Duncan in Jamaica - succeed in convincing the electorate about the new messages they now bring. But then, as they say, in politics all things are possible. We shall see.

GTUC's Duncan
** CONGRATULATIONS to the Guyana Labour Union's Carvil Duncan on his overwhelming choice as the new President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC).

He must have had a good laugh at my expense, and rightly so, on reading my preference for the CCWU's Grantley Culbard in my column when the elections had already taken place the previous day due to a misunderstanding on dates.

What is important and particularly appealing is Duncan's expressed commitment to make unity of the labour movement a top priority of his presidency, an issue that was the primary focus of my last column.

His stated objective to bring back GAWU and NAACIE into the fold of the GTUC will be closely followed. Best of wishes to the new GTUC executive. Let us hope that both the Government and the GTUC will cease the blame-shiftings and work sincerely for improved relations in the national interest.