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Hegemony And Consensus
The political culture of Trinidad and Tobago has operated on the basis of a fierce hegemonic battle between the PNM and the UNC over the last 12 years. This came about with the political demise of the NAR in the 1991 general election.
In examining the last 50 years of our independent political history we can observe that the country has moved from the complete political domination of the PNM between 1962 and 1986 to a new dispensation based on coalition and consensus after the 2010 general election.
The political battles between the PNM and the DLP at the time of independence were exceptionally fierce as there was great fear about who would capture power and dominate the new independent state. That accolade went to the PNM and was assisted by the absentee leadership of Dr Capildeo as Leader of the Opposition in the 1960s. The in-fighting that emerged inside the main opposition party at that time facilitated Dr Williams and the PNM.
The supporting buzzwords of the emerging political culture were “who don’t like it could get to hell out of here”, “when I speak not a damn dog bark”, and “when I say come you cometh and when I say go you goeth”. These expressions were designed to solidify a political base that was not prepared to accommodate any political change and reinforced the fantasy of doctor-politics that captured the imagination of our young independent state.
By 1970 the first real challenge to this political culture emerged and Williams was able to overcome it with the help of ANR Robinson and Vernon Jamadar who led a no-vote campaign in 1971 that played into Williams’ hands and allowed him to change the constitution by delivering a clean sweep of all 36 seats in the House of Representatives.
Williams had already embarked on constitutional reform by 1969, but the victory in 1971 opened the door for him to effect the changes to the constitution that he wanted. His political management was clinical as he dealt with opposing forces both inside and outside the PNM that saw him lurch from resignation to domination.
As the 1970s came to an end, he faced a growing challenge from inside his own party from Karl Hudson-Phillips who eventually formed the ONR. This development came after ANR Robinson was able to lead his own breakaway from the PNM in the form of the DAC to victory in the two Tobago seats in the 1976 general elections. In 1980 Robinson would be victorious in the first THA elections.
By the 1980s a political consensus began to emerge between Robinson, Hudson-Phillips and Basdeo Panday who had formed the ULF. The first emergence of a political consensus between them was given a dry run in the 1983 local government elections which paved the way for the formation of the NAR in 1985 and the ultimate victory for consensus politics in 1986.
Many thought that the PNM had been decimated at that time and few really gave Patrick Manning much of a chance to rebuild the party. Indeed, his determination was helped by the break-up of the NAR and the emergence of the UNC. The rebuilt PNM captured power in 1991 and the new UNC captured power right after that in 1995 in a coalition with the NAR.
The UNC then won a victory in 2000 on its own and that was short-lived and by 2001 the PNM had returned to power. The moral of the story to this point is that the alteration of the political culture was effected by the use of consensus politics to challenge the PNM. There is no doubt that there is a body of electoral opinion that has changed its views over the years to ensure that the pendulum has been able to swing five times since independence.
However, it must be noted that the swings have really only occurred over the second half of our 50-year history. Has the country arrived at the psyche of consensus politics or are there still deep-seated desires in the hearts of political parties to hold power only for themselves with consensus as a buzzword to mask their true intentions?
Has the coalition method made any impact on the political culture of the country or will there be a return to finding ways to effect single-party domination? The People’s Partnership came into power as the epitome of a coalition.
Over the last two and a half years they have faced very stiff internal and external challenges to their tenure, but they have managed to survive so far. The PNM is not a political party that has been founded on any principles of power sharing and coalition and is undoubtedly a single-party entity that is unlikely to share power.
There was recent attempt to have a coalition discussion but that was over even before it started. More recent events suggest a renewed ally for the PNM could be in the making. Will the COP and the UNC go their separate ways or contest in partnership in the local government elections?
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