Congratulations to our new and first woman Prime Minister, Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and hearty congratulations also to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, our Elections & Boundaries Commission, the media, and to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service for a smooth and civil transition of government. Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s and the People’s Partnership’s 29-12 victory over Mr. Manning and the PNM (People’s National Movement) is readily reminiscent of the 33-3 victory of the NAR (National Alliance for Reconstruction) over the PNM back in 1986. Then, such was all the more significant given the PNM’s holding of the political reins of power since 1956. However, back in 1986, despite the NAR’s tremendous victory, the Trinidad and Tobago economy had been undergoing a recession since 1982. The NAR, under Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson, had taken the difficult and seemingly inevitable choice to seek IMF (International Monetary Fund) assistance which, in 1988, then imposed severe economic restrictions upon the country which precipitated a groundswell of unpopularity against Mr. Robinson and his administration. With the backdrop of this unpopularity, the militaristic Islamic group, the Jamaat Al Muslimeen, led by Yasin Abu Bakr, sought to overthrow the Robinson administration in the 1990 coup attempt: an event during which Mr. Robinson sustained a gunshot wound to his leg and where he and some of his cabinet members were held hostage for six days. The PNM returned to electoral victory in 1991.
At present, the economic situation in Trinidad and Tobago is thankfully not close to what it was in the 1980s. However, now there is sufficient economic turmoil in the more advanced economies of the United States and Western Europe to warrant concerns of contagion for the developing world. Similar to the NAR post-victory atmosphere in 1986, there seems now to be a widespread sentiment of hope and promise for the country and the new administration. It is not hard to imagine however, that should there be an economic turn for the worse, how drastically such sentiments might change. Change, it should be noted, was the campaign theme of the People’s Partnership, for which the party was accused by some of trying to don Obama-esque raiments. And Mr. Obama’s lustre, given primarily that, thus far, there has not been a bolstering of the beleaguered U.S. job market, has naturally suffered. So the political lessons from at home and abroad are all there for the People’s Partnership to take note.
Nonetheless, for the political change, as has been a theme on this blog, there still remains much onus upon the people of Trinidad and Tobago to put forward their best efforts to help the country move forward. Electoral change is only but one and relatively infrequent aspect of democracy. The real work comes in the everyday constancy of people-participation for genuine concern for the overall development of the country. Within the engine of the free market system in which we operate, is Adam Smith’s identified root of self-interest which acts as the system’s igniter and fuel. Many however, sometimes take the notion of self-interest too much to heart where they forget or choose to ignore that Smith’s view of self-interest was predicated upon two aspects of the concept: one individual, the other collective, where each complemented the other. Of self-interest Smith states in 'The Wealth of Nations (Note: this is the commonly used title. The formal title is An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations):
"But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. "
Essentially, to somewhat paraphrase Smith, while we all look out for own interests we would do well to realise that each of our interests are wrapped up the interests of others in the society. The U.S. economic meltdown under which Mr. Obama’ s popularity is being tested, had its roots in truly rapacious and narrowly focused self-interest run amok, within an environment of little market oversight or enforcement. While he was elected with a great expectancy of change and a leveling of the playing field, such has been not easy to come by, particularly with well-moneyed interests and political gamesmanship seeking to stymie and water-down stricter market reform initiatives at every turn. As such, there are many who having voted for Mr. Obama’s ‘change,’ now feel that their voices, efforts, and ideals are still being stifled and supplanted by those with the power of the purse over their congressional representatives: many still see the continuance of a system where the self-interests of political elites and corporate elites act in concert at the expense of and indifference to the interests of the wider population.
Similar and other hindrances to desired and needed changes in light of the new direction in which the Trinidad and Tobago population now seems eager to pursue, are what the Persad-Bissessar administration and the population at large will have to remain alert to as well. The populace however, must be realistic and also know that in any economy, of sometimes competing interests, trade-offs between one decision and another are inevitable: and while politicians seem to relish as being all things to all people when on the campaign trail, once in office the realities of restrictions and political and other accommodations rear their heads.
So let us enter as we must, into any new life-chapter, with a positive attitude and attendant action to accompany our progress. But let there be no delusions that our fate lies solely or primarily with our elected officials within whom we have placed our trust: our fate, is also very much, of the stuff of actions of us all.