by CATO RAND
At regular intervals I hope to be commenting on happenings in places other than our island home
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO – JACK IS BACK
I know us Jamaicans think that there is never a dull moment in our local politics but I would argue that we cannot match what takes place in the land of the steel pan (and cricket batting genius Brian Lara), sweet, sweet T&T.
Austin ʻJackʼ Warner is back as Member of Parliament for Chaguanas West some three months after first resigning as Minister of National Security not then from his parliamentary seat (he has represented the constituency since the 1990s). His resignation followed allegations of fraud and misappropriation of funds while serving as President of Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
Warner who was CONCACAF President from 1990 – 2011 and also former FIFA Vice-President, ran on the ticket of his newly formed Independent Liberal Party (ILP) defeating candidates representing the more established United National Congress (for which Jack was also former Chairman) and the Peopleʼs National Movement and in the process becoming the first independent candidate to triumph in parliamentary elections in Trinidad and Tobago. Warner won in a landslide, garnering twice as many votes as the UNCʼs Khadijah Ameen. Chaguanas West is a traditional safe UNC constituency.
Could this victory propel the 70 year old Warner to Prime Minister and how will the formation of the ILP affect the political landscape in Trinidad? The UNC is the majority partner in the Peopleʼs Partnership ruling coalition and who knows Jack may yet join the ruling coalition although he has stated that his offer to be a part of the coalition was spurned prior to the elections. The brain trust of the UNC may have been reluctant to draft the polarizing Warner into the coalition anticipating a Warner loss but given his margin of victory will this change. Interestingly Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters (of calypso fame) a UNC parliamentarian was present at Jackʼs victory rally. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar as predicted by political analysts has reshuffled her cabinet. Seen as an unpopular response by some to the Warner victory.
Warner, a former high school teacher and University lecturer, has never drifted far from controversy even allegedly impersonating the Haitian delegate to cast a vote which resulted in Sepp Blatter eking out a close victory when Blatter first ran for President of FIFA. Warner may yet be extradited to the United States of America to face charges of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.
ST KITTS AND NEVIS – DOUGLAS CLINGS TO POWER
Prime Minister Denzil Douglas is clinging to power as at the time of writing he continues to resist bringing to Parliament a no confidence motion first filed by the main opposition Peopleʼs Action Movement (PAM) in December 2012. Douglas is almost certain to lose the no confidence vote . His St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) has 5 of the 11 voting-eligible parliamentary representatives (compared to 4 by PAM ) and two members of parliament – Sam Condor and Timothy Harris – who both now sit as independents after being recently expelled from the Government by Douglas have indicated they will support the no confidence motion. Harris (former Foreign Affairs Minister) and Condor (former Deputy Prime Minister) have subsequently formed a new political party – the Peopleʼs Labour Party.
Douglas, now in his 19th year as Prime Minister, maintains that the Constitution does not give a time frame when no confidence motions should be put to a vote but certainly he is not acting in the spirit of parliamentary democracy when one considers there have been many sittings of Parliament since the motion was first filed. If Douglas loses the no confidence vote he will have to resign or dissolve Parliament within 3 days . If not the Governor General will dissolve Parliament and lead to elections within 90 days. Douglas is now looking about changing constituency boundaries obviously anticipating upcoming elections. One can certainly surmise that there will be some if not a lot of gerrymandering to ensure that the SKNLP is returned to power following those elections.
The opposition PAM initially filed the no confidence motion citing Douglasʼ disregard for the constitution, poor leadership leading to disastrous economic conditions and lack of public confidence. Since then a number of moves and counter-moves have been made by the political players. PAM went to the High Court over the delay but the Speaker then declared that the motion would not be tabled if the matter was before the Court . PAM then withdrew their court action and filed a second motion of no confidence in July 2013.
Conditions in St. Kitts and Nevis (total population approximately 50, 000) should be somewhat familiar to us Jamaicans. The twin island state whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism, is among the most indebted nations on the planet. Its homicide rate of about 36 per 100 000 is listed as one of the highest in the world. St Kitts entered into a 36 month Stand by Agreement with the International Monetary Fund in 2011.
Of note Arthur Sharpe who was a leading racehorse trainer in Jamaica in the 1970s migrated to St. Kitts and is now one of its richest businessmen.
ZIMBABWE – THE (DARK) ANGEL RETURNS
Robert Mugabe has been sworn in for another 5 year term of office, after his reelection as President of Zimbabwe. In the July 2013 elections Mugabe, 89 years old, gained 61 % of the vote compared to main challenger Morgan Tsvangirai who gained 34%. Tsvangirai , leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Mugabe , leader of Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) were in an increasingly uncomfortable power sharing arrangement which they entered into following parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008.
Following those elections MDC gained the majority of parliamentary seats and Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe in the first round of the presidential voting but did not contest the second round after some 200 MDC supporters were killed by ZANU-PF thugs in a mayhem of state-sponsored violence. The power sharing arrangement featured Mugabe as President and head of government, Tsvangirai as Prime Minister with executive powers to chair a council of ministers responsible for forming government policies, 15 ministers nominated by ZANU-PF, 13 ministers nominated by MDC and 3 ministers nominated by the Arthur Mutambara faction that broke from MDC.
Zimbabwe gained independence from Great Britain in 1980 after a liberation struggle led by Mugabe. The resource-rich southern African nation that offered so much promise is now a basket case after some 30-odd years of misrule by Mugabe. Once admired for its thriving agriculture sector, Zimbabwe now has difficulty feeding itself; a direct result of Mugabeʼs policy of taking over many white -owned farms in one of his prior moves to hang onto power. Sad to say many of these farms were handed over to ZANU-PF officials. In one report Mugabeʼs wife Grace turned up at a farm and told the owners that it was time for them to leave as the farm now belonged to her. Just like that.
Inflation in Zimbabwe seemed immeasurable during their financial meltdown. In 2008 the annual inflation rate stood at 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000%, You read that correctly…89,700 followed by 18 zeros! A hundred trillion note was made ready for circulation during the financial meltdown. It has been a painful decline for Zimbabwe with unemployment now running at 95% and some Zimbabweans turning up at hospitals with a chicken or bags of peanuts as payment for hospital bills. Contrast this with his wife, Grace Mugabe (41 years Robertʼs junior), enjoying such an extravagant lifestyle that she has been dubbed the “First Shopper of Zimbabwe”. In one of her shopping jaunts she reportedly spent £75, 000 in two hours in Paris. Her high priced overseas shopping trips are funded through ‘donations’ from business elites in return for political favours one can only surmise.. Mugabe is also said to have given her a DC-9 airliner once owned by Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame as a present. The economy has improved somewhat with the dollarisation of the economy following the MDC entering government.
Tsvangirai and the MDC are alleging fraud following the recent elections . Some 1 million persons are estimated to heave been denied the opportunity to vote . This is certainly significant given the potential electorate stands at about 6 million. Many of those denied the opportunity to vote lived in MDC strongholds. But Tsvangirai and the MDC must look in the mirror. The MDC has been beset by allegations of corruption and Tsvangirai has certainly lost some of the shine he had when in opposition, what with him leading a soap opera style private life that came to public notice following the untimely death of his wife.
The populaceʼs disenchantment with the MDC was evident in a survey last year by Freedom House that showed support for MDC had fallen to 20 % down from 38 % two years earlier while support for ZANU- PF was at 31% up from 17% in 2010. So while there has been no dancing in the streets following the elections as stated by Wilf Mbanga editor of The Zimbabwean, an independent newspaper, maybe we should not be surprised at the results.
The elections were observed by the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community and both groups have praised the elections as peaceful and in conformity with regional standards and principles. Olusegun Obasango, former President of Nigeria, and head of the AU observer group has stated that apparent irregularities did not constitute evidence of systematic tampering.
It will be interesting to see the response of Western leaders who must now be “tyad fi see Mugabe face.” Despite supposedly suffering from prostate cancer, Mugabe may yet live for many years to come and remain in power what with constitutional elections not due for the next 5 years. Mugabeʼs mother died at about age 100, he exercises daily and has led a somewhat ascetic lifestyle thought to be related to his Roman Catholic upbringing.
The Western powers may be forced to remove the targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle which has resulted in travel bans and asset freeze. Interestingly ZANU- PF has blamed the sanctions for the present economic crisis. The West, especially the USA, may wish to blunt Chinaʼs rising influence in Africa and with some European countries said to be eager for a share of Zimbabweʼs diamond trade, there will be increasing pressure to improve relations with Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Lifting sanctions may be a necessary first step.
Mugabeʼs middle initial is ‘G’ as in Gabriel but following his 33 years of misrule which has resulted in so much economic, political and social turmoil probably ‘L’ (for Lucifer) would be more apt.
CANADA – THE SON ALSO RISES
There is a name certainly familiar to us Jamaicans, back in Canadian politics. Justin Trudeau, 41, son of Pierre Trudeau is now leader of the Liberal Party. Justin takes over the Liberal Party which for the first time in its history has fallen into third place in popularity behind Prime Minister Stephen Harperʼs Conservative Party and the left-wing New Democrat Party.
Pierre Trudeau, who was Prime Minister 1968 -1979 and 1980 – 1984, was a polarizing figure in Canadian politics and for Justin it will be interesting to see how inheriting the famous name affects his political fortunes. In the coming years Justin will have to prove to the Canadian public that he has been bestowed not just the charisma but also the substance of the father.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – THE DECLINE AND FALL ?
The United States of America is often viewed as modern day Rome by its many critics who bristle at its wealth, power, hedonistic culture and hegomonic posturing on the world stage (On a lighter note some even liken American football with its bone jarring hits to gladiators entertaining the masses.) It may be sooner rather than later that the influence of the USA on the world stage is as much as that of present day Italy. Recent happenings in Detroit may well be the proverbial canary in the mine. Detroit once called the ʻParis of the Westʼ has become the largest city in the USA to file for bankruptcy. Decades of progressive liberalism has fueled a Leviathan structure which may be about to collapse under its own weight.
Sad to say public policy at the federal level is being informed by a world view similar to that which has been the primary reason (among other things) for Detroit finding itself in its present predicament. As stated by noted libertarian Ayn Rand many years ago, the USA has long ceased being a bastion of capitalism.
The present commander in chief Barack Obama may very well be the most left leaning politician to occupy the Oval Office. But let me hasten to add the decline did not begin on his watch and his immediate predecessor George W, Bush – a Republican no less- seemed to be as a much a fan of Big Government and the welfare state.
I view President Obama as the USAʼs version of our own Michael Manley – handsome, charismatic, captivating oratory (I do enjoy listening to him while he reads that teleprompter) and espousing well intentioned but ultimately disastrous public policies that continue to reverberate long after he has departed public office and from which his country may never recover. The USA may soon cease to be that ʻshining city on the hillʼ as once declared by Ronald Reagan.
But probably its just as appropriate to compare the USA with ancient Athens. Decision-making in the USA especially since the early 1900s can be seen as a progressive march from a republican form of government to more of a democracy.
There is a very interesting quote, attributed to Scottish judge and historian Alexander Fraser Tyler (1747-1813 ), from his book “The Fall of the Athenian Republic”:…..
“A democracy cannot exist as permanent form of government. It can only exist until voters discern that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy always followed by a dictatorship.”
…….I should cover myself by stating that its provenance is in dispute, with some attributing it to Benjamin Disraeli or Alexis Tocqueville.
Abraham Lincoln, the first president to be elected on a Republican Party ticket is seen by many historians as one of the greatest presidents and this especially for his efforts in preserving the Union. Lincolnʼs election in 1860 was seen as a death blow by many in the South whose source of power and wealth relied on slavery. Eventually 11 states seceded and it took the American Civil War (1861-1865) to restore the Union. The irony is that the next great Republican president may be the one who engineers the secession of states in which the constituents want to live in a country defined by limited government as proclaimed by the Founding Fathers who in the late 1700ʼs embarked on an experiment in constitutional republic rule in which the primary purpose of government to secure the inalienable rights of its citizens.
By the way I wonder what has become of Kathy Owen – news presenter in the early days of CVM Television?
Cato Rand is a Black Jamaican of Libertarian and Conservative persuasion. He is a fervent believer in Capitalism, Freedom and the principles outlined by the US Constitution and it being applicable to all peoples, including Jamaicans. He is a strong advocate for the limited role that a government should play in the lives of people.