As the campaign for the Chaguanas West by-election comes to an end, it is apparent that the voters will be faced with choices that could tell us a lot about ourselves. The Warner campaign was put on the defensive late in the game by a platform speaker who chose to engage in the liberal use of racial epithets and justification to steal to provide shock and awe to his audience.
This was his second appearance on the platform, which turned out to be his last as the shock and awe went way beyond the boundaries of Chaguanas West. The embarrassment to the Warner campaign was horrific and an apology was crafted and sent to media houses overnight.
One of the other sideshows that has been playing itself out during the by-election campaign has been the curious decision by Ken Gordon to reveal that he has decided to recuse himself from all consideration of the e-mail allegations brought by the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley, against the Prime Minister and some other ministers.
Why would Ken Gordon recuse himself against the backdrop of his public utterances that he did nothing wrong when he met Dr Keith Rowley at his home five days before the motion of no confidence in the House of Representatives? There was no need for an act of contrition in the absence of any confession of wrongdoing. So why do it?
Once again, Gordon’s judgment is impaired as he opened the door to further questions about whether he should participate in any investigation by the Integrity Commission into any allegations made by the Opposition about the Government and vice versa. The conundrum created by Gordon has not been lost on his primary defender, Michael Williams. In a letter to the editor of the Guardian last Tuesday, Williams said inter alia:
“I agree the normal private office meeting was preferable—but I am seeing a molehill and not a mountain; and even if an error of judgment is cited, that error is hardly of such enormity to warrant anyone’s removal, or to disturb the president’s sleep. In attacking Gordon, who to date seems to enjoy the President’s confidence, the Prime Minister and others are actually taking issue with the President’s judgment, whether deliberate or not; and the Prime Minister’s latest utterance, that Gordon must not preside over any matter involving ‘the government,’ will likely frustrate the work of the IC.”
Williams skilfully dodged the point that Gordon asserted that he did nothing wrong and has now recused himself for apparently doing nothing wrong. In contradiction to Gordon, Williams sees an error and, predictably, he has tried to diminish its significance. It is this kind of doublespeak that can make a mountain out of Williams’ molehill.
The two of them need to get it right. It was either as Gordon said which is that he did nothing wrong, or it is as Williams asserts that it was an error of the molehill variety. The President’s sleep and his judgment will have nothing to do with Gordon’s recusal for doing nothing wrong. That contradiction will be determined outside of President’s House.
Meanwhile, back in Chaguanas West, another sideshow that emerged during the period of the by-election is the internal debate within the COP about their future involvement in the People’s Partnership Government. One faction wants to return to the principles laid out when Winston Dookeran formed the party in 2006, while another is now more comfortable staying in the Partnership post-Jack Warner than was the case before.
In many respects, the decision by Winston Dookeran not to seek re-election as political leader of the COP back in 2011, while staying in the People’s Partnership Government as a minister, has created a situation in which the party has been plunged into continual debate about whether it should share power or stand alone.
Being a minority party in a coalition is never easy, while standing alone in a dominant two-party system under a first-past-the-post electoral system is challenging as both the 1981 ONR and the 2007 COP are aware.
The challenge for the UNC now is whether the ILP will make significant inroads into the UNC voter base to split it to the point where many UNC stronghold constituencies, like Chaguanas West, could become marginal by virtue of the split. If the COP and the UNC are simultaneously split from the inside, then the PNM stands to benefit from all of this.
Furthermore, if the ILP demonstrates tomorrow that it can attract a significant number of voters after being formed less than a month ago against the backdrop of the adverse media publicity given to the financial affairs of its political leader in the world of FIFA and elsewhere, then the society will have to question itself about what voters are looking for. Many of the defenders of Ken Gordon are simultaneously the detractors of Jack Warner.
What issues are considered right or wrong in a democracy where the voters are supreme? Perhaps the silent pressure groups can tell us.