Renaissance in Trinidad and Tobago politics

FINALLY the thirst for sweet victory which so many in this Caribbean island have yearned for has been quenched. Recent national elections in Trinidad and Tobago bore a historic reality. It marked the first time in 30 years that the People's National Movement (PNM), founded by the late Dr. Eric Williams, an eminent Caribbean historian who once taught at Howard University, lost at the polls.

The defeat was not only historic but significant in that the PNM lost by a landslide margin to the opposition coalition party, the National Alliance for Reconstruction. This victory is a breath of fresh air for this parliamentary democracy and cosmopolitan society, which has languished under the politics of stagnation by the PNM regime for the last 10 years.

The margin of victory - 33 seats to 3 - established the electorate's conviction that the time was ripe for change, not blind partisanship. Many became wary of the glib politicking by the PNM, long devoid of new ideas and enamoured with a past wholly out of context with the present.

In fact, the recent victory represented the latent maturity of an electorate which for several years disappointed a hopeful minority that change was on the horizon. Victory for the opposition also marks a renaissance, a rebirth of the country's hopes and economic aspirations. Indeed, the economic situation, including the oil price drop and its consequences, played a role in the change at the top.

For prime minister-elect A.N.R. Robinson, it means a return to political popularity and his capture of the leadership which he flirted with in the early '70s, before going into self-imposed political exile in Tobago following the debacle of the infamous 1970 black power uprising in Trinidad.

At that time Mr. Robinson, a lawyer by training and respected author, was the Minister of Finance and deputy political leader in the Williams regime.

It is hoped now that the new government will lead the nation in a different political setting - where national cynicism, so rampant under the defeated George Chambers administration, will make way for vigilance. In fact, even Robinson himself said in his victory speech from Tobago that ``the time has come for all to play their part by ensuring that those elected are held accountable to the electorate.''

This historic tide of victory has implications for thousands of Trinidadians and Tobagonians residing in the United States.

Many US residents were frantically trying to contact relatives back home at the time of and shortly after the election, only to be disappointed by telephone recordings: ``I'm sorry, but all circuits are busy now. ...'' However, their frustration was only temporary. Many are considering returning to Trinidad to join in the national reconstruction effort. Others are contemplating their own personal economic possibilities - which have been given a new lease on life under the new regime.

The political change will also test the loyalty of the various US companies doing business in this island of 1.2 million people.

Companies like AMOCO, the largest foreign oil company operating in Trinidad, W.R. Grace in the petrochemical industry, and the American Life and General Insurance Company, have all reaped huge profits during the 1973-81 oil boom period.

Times have changed; so, too, the leadership and the economy - the latter now floundering in the wake of fluctuating oil prices. It will be interesting to see if firms now doing business in Trinidad, as well as other US companies, will show allegiance or fold up their operations, such as the Royal Bank of Canada decided to do during the summer.

Despite the uncertainty, the sweet taste of victory now stirs many Trinidadians, both at home and living in the United States. Let us hope that citizens are not so caught up in the momentary euphoria that their perspective is blinded.

Most of all, just as the forlorn PNM candidates were resigned in defeat, let us trust that all Trinidadians and Tobagonians will be magnanimous in victory.

Derrick Poon Young is a television journalist from Trinidad on sabbatical at Boston University.

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