They say in the Caribbean that politics, like cricket, is a game of "glorious uncertainties. And after Trinidadian and Tobagonians elected its first female prime minister in its history the euphoria and glee has signaled the end of the road for the nation's oldest political party now appears a real possibility. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, leader of the People's Partnership a coalition of opposition parties led by the United National Congress (UNC) - was given a near complete mandate by Trinidadians and Tobagonians fed up with acrimonious and vindictive politics of the People's National Movement (PNM) and its erratic and enigmatic leader and former Prime Minister, Patrick Manning.Campaigning on a slogan borrowed from United States politics, "Kamlamania swept the political landscape drawing thousands of disillusioned, dissatisfied and angry voters yearning for real political change. The PP's mantra of "Its Time For Change" resonated, echoed and reverberated all across the country as voters from all racial backgrounds, classes, economic persuasions, religious creeds, and callings embraced it in a grand uniquely Trinidadian coalition of the people all focused on one thing getting rid of the PNM through the ballot box.
In the final analysis the vote for Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her People's Partnership was an indictment of Manning, the failed policies of the PNM, and swirling allegations of widespread governmental corruption. In essence therefore, the rejection of the PNM by a people's collective that included Afro and Indo Trinidadians and all other races and nationalities underscored the depth of the political bankruptcy of the PNM and the chronic incumbent fatigue syndrome from which it suffered.
The political tidal wave that swept the PNM from office also carried with it an accompanying shock of a deer-caught-in-the-headlights Manning and his cronies in opposition are still dazed and confused. All with good reason because Manning had led three consecutive PNM administrations in nine years and had lost two contests when he called snap elections. He must be mulling his political future in a real way since it is inevitable that he will be blamed for the party's rout at the polls and he's bound to be challenged for the leadership by the PNM "young turks" including the charismatic Keith Rowley.
And even the very political life and existence of the PNM is now in doubt. If it fails to correctly read and understand the political realities of a 21st century Trinidad and Tobago and enact deep-going, systemic changes then it will continue to slide down the slippery slope of its own demise. Besides the credibility challenges that the PNM faced in this election there are other important factors that it did not clearly analyze or consider. First, and foremost the party failed to change its operational tactics in keeping with the present realities on the ground. The PNM is an "old time" political party whose base is either dying out, sick and getting fewer by the day. Old family party loyalties are not as strong as a decade ago.
What the PNM did not do was to find a way to attract young voters to its column and boost its dwindling "traditional support base." Come to think of it young voters cannot identify with either the PNM or the UNC that came into being when they were infants. The UNC joined a coalition with a brand new face and in so doing tapped into popular voter dissatisfaction and anger against its political nemesis. The UNC's "new face" was that of a charismatic woman a development that carried with it an exciting and attractive proposition that found favor with most voters but especially young people across the racial board. In this election race was not a major determining factor as others even though the PNM tried in vain to woo Afro-Trinidadian voters its traditional base.
In contrast to the UNC's remake tactic, the PNM stuck with the same old tired faces that came to be associated with corruption, greed, political hanky-panky and inefficiency. The electoral outcome clearly demonstrated the fact that Trinidad and Tobago voters first rejected the PNM and its policies and was brave enough to embrace a new and radical departure from traditional politics as usual. The old tried and tested political standards were useless and ineffective against a modern generation and its wired connectedness.
Should the PNM fail to heed the lessons of the May Tidal Wave it will surely die a natural death or become irrelevant to Trinidad and Tobago politics. The fact that the PP has such an overwhelming majority and popular people's mandate in the Trinidad Parliament also does not bode well for the PNM in opposition except in the area of noisemaking that will further heighten its alienation and isolation from the people. To be sure the diehard supporters of the PNM will cling doggedly to the "old politics of the past" something that will only help to show the party's age and just how out of touch it is in the context of today's political climate.
But Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar faces serious challenges that will almost immediately confront her as soon as the euphoria and novelty of the historic moment wears off. First and foremost she will have to manage the huge public expectations that accompanied her victory no easy task. Next, she's going to have to deliver on some campaign promises given the very fickle nature of the masses and their ability to do a 360 degree turn from favor to anger in the time it takes to sing the national anthem. And finally, her cabinet and leadership must reflect the racial composition of the partnership since this was one of the expectations that her PPP raised during the campaign.
In the end the elections was a clash or contest between the old and the modern (new). Patrick Manning and the PNM represent a half century of PNM rule only interrupted occasionally and starting from the Founding Father of the Republic, Dr. Eric Williams. In many ways this election was also a referendum on this old, neo-colonial style of political leadership juxtaposed with a new, modern text-messaging style. It is a no-brainer to deduce which would win out even before the first vote was cast.
Finally, Patrick Manning's style did him in since many Trinidadians and Tobagonians saw him as arrogant, corrupt and out of touch with the political reality of the day. They saw him as old, tired and in dire need of being put out to pasture. By contrast the rapid, viral popularity of Kamla Persad-Bissessar and a hastily put together People's Partnership is evidence that Trinidad and Tobago was ripe for change and that even incumbents in small, emerging nations are not immune to incumbent fatigue and voter anger.