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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Silences travers├ęs des Mondes et des Anges



A map of the dark side of the moon, its geology indicated by colour, generated by the US Geological Survey--via Strange Maps. (No, I'm not looking for somewhere to migrate to, now that Mr. Manning is back for five.)

For no good reason, this makes me think of Rimbaud's vowels.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

44, 25

Well, scratch that out.

It turns out the figures reported by the Newsday yesterday were "very preliminary", as the second paragraph of the story clearly says. Less preliminary (but still not final) figures published by the Express today paint a different picture. Ah, the dangers of premature arithmetic.

Voter turnout was not a surprisingly low 56%, but closer to 66%, just a few points below the last election. The COP didn't snag 25% of the vote--more like 23%, and it looks like the UNC won 30%, a good 46,000 more votes in the popular count nationwide. (On the other hand, it now looks like the PNM got a mere 46%.)

So much for a 44-25 strategy.

34-23 doesn't have the same ring to it.

I think my basic argument still holds--that if the COP is to have any meaningful future role it must 1. win over non-voters and 2. turn the focus of the constitution reform debate away from executive powers and towards making the legislature more representative of actual voting patterns. But--back to those tricksy numbers--34-23 = a more toilsome fight than 44-25.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

1981, 1986, 44, 25

About a week before the general election in 1981, my standard one teacher, Miss Jacob, announced we'd be doing a classroom civics project: our own mini-election. She explained how voting worked, told us the names of the parties and their leaders, and set the date for the Friday before the real-life election day.

None of us seven-year-olds had any idea what the PNM or the ULF or the ONR were, or what was the difference between them, so naturally we went home and asked our parents who to vote for. On Friday morning, we wrote the party names and drew their symbols on strips of paper, then hunched over our ballots to mark our Xs. The "returning officer" collected them, Miss Jacob counted them, and she wrote the results on the blackboard. We were a class of perhaps twenty-four middle-class children from Port of Spain and its northern and north-western suburbs. All but two of us voted for the ONR.

When the PNM won the real grown-up election a few days later--and the ONR took not a single seat, despite winning a quarter of the popular votes nationwide--my seven-year-old self was utterly confused. It was my first experience of Trinidadian electoral politics.

Skip five years--past Plain Clothes' "Chambers Done See" and Gypsy's "Sinking Ship"--to the 1986 election. My father campaigned for the NAR in our constituency. I remember the posters with the steel-beam symbol everywhere, and the excitement and optimism, the sense that everything was about to change. And the huge victory rally in the Savannah afterwards, like a picnic the whole country was invited to.

The COP and its supporters--including many of my friends and colleagues and, finally, myself--were hoping that Monday's election would be like 1986. Instead we got 1981, like a slap in the face to bring us back to reality.

***

Number, numbers, numbers. The key ones--the heartbreaking ones--were on the front pages of the newspapers today: 26-15-0. An eleven-seat majority for Mr. Manning, but thankfully two seats short of the 28 he needs to start tinkering with the constitution. (Perhaps he'll try anyway.) The pundits will be picking over the figures for weeks, the pollsters will claim they got it right, the politicians will gloat or grumble--or, in Mr. Panday's case, foam at the mouth.

But these are the numbers that will matter in the long run: 44, which is the percentage of the registered electorate who didn't vote; that is to say, who weren't interested in the tribal politics of the PNM and the UNC but yet didn't feel motivated enough, or confident enough, to stain their fingers for the COP. And 25, which is the percentage of the popular vote the COP actually won. The UNC managed just 22.5%, but took eleven seats, thanks to the antiquated first-past-the-post system we inherited at Independence

If the COP is to have any long-term effect, if they are serious--if we are serious--about breaking the deadlock of tribal voting, those are the numbers future planning must be based on, it seems to me. And what is the 44-25 strategy? Convince the 44% that the COP is a viable option, that a vote for the COP is not a wasted vote, is more than a protest vote, and get them out to the polls next time. And work for real reform of a constitutional system that ignores the wishes of a full quarter of the electorate.

God knows what tricks Mr. Manning has planned for us in the next five years, in the name of "developed nation status". More heavy industrialisation, more skyscrapers, more legal voter padding of marginal constituencies via housing schemes, more murders, more gangs with more guns.... Five more years of being ignored or patronised by the government whose salary we're all paying, while we get more desperate and demoralised, and more of our brightest and best apply for green cards. And the last thing either the PNM or the UNC wants is an electoral system that produces a parliament reflecting the people's wishes, via some form of proportional representation. So I hardly need say that things will probably get worse before they get better, and making things better means blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

But what is the alternative?

I don't want a green card.

Update: damn numbers. See here.

Friday, November 02, 2007

It's entirely Trinidadian, as jokey as it is heartbreaking, that, with three political parties, instead of finding one to vote for, we should end up with two to vote against.

Thanks, BC, for saying everything we need to know about this election in one sentence.