“So close to paradise, but closer than I should be
It’s like I’m along for the ride, it happened unexpectedly
Promised myself that I wouldn’t ever love again
I was standing in the rain (I thought about you) (Luther Vandross, I think about you)
“I thought about [it]’’, was my response to a text from a friend asking, if I had joined Louis Lee Sing’s party, announced last week. Lee Sing’s Port of Spain-concentrated, local-government-electoral-initiative, as welcome as it should be, will benefit from forecasting what change he and his party are likely to make if he wins the city. That exercise is separate from the prospect if the party that controls the central government is not the same party that controls local government.
Reading the announcement, it helps to recall how much the notion of “regime change’’ has become so bastardised by American foreign policy interventions in the affairs of sovereign states in the post World War II years, that it has marred the thinking of well-meaning people on questions of what constitutes needed substantive change in given states.
In contemporary times Venezuela and Haiti are polar opposites. One has managed to make limited regime change. In the other, the regime of de facto American presence is bursting at the seams with oppressive social inequalities, the concentration of economic power in the hands of non-Haitians, the outlawing of the most popular political party and large daily protests against a president who the US says must live out his term.
In new states, populations change governments but don’t understand they often leave the regime intact. In developed countries leaders like to sell their supporters on the idea that a mere change of government means they can drain the swamp of corruption created out of liberal attempts to privatise standard responsibilities of the nation state. Almost always, the regime remains or is kept intact.
Globally, people do not see that it is impossible for a new government to “drain the swamp’’, as has been announced in 2016 in the US, without changing the regime. And very often “regime change’’ is used for political propaganda effect and is incorrectly, but wilfully conflated with a change of government.
Mr Lee Sing, a former lifelong member of the People’s National Movement (PNM) since he was a teenager, has been looking for entries into alternative PNM politics, long before he became a PNM Mayor of Port of Spain from 2010 to 2013, at a time when the PNM was in Opposition.
A sensible and sensitive individual, in my judgment, despite his long association with the People’s National Movement, Lee Sing’s relationship with the PNM has been an ambivalent one. On the evidence Lee Sing seems never to have been a die-hard PNM fanatical supporter. But equally for many decades, Lee Sing seemed careful not to tread too far out on a limb to burn his bridges with the PNM.
Two instances come to mind. I recalled that he might have quietly supported my candidacy on a Tapia House Movement (THM) ticket in San Juan constituency in 1976 in a general election where, in the perception of many electors, supporting the THM was “wasting” their vote.
In 1981, after the death of Dr Eric Williams, political leader of the PNM, he was among a handful of PNM people who came to Lloyd Best to besiege and woo him to take over that party’s leadership. None of Best’s suitors could explain how that would happen.
In that process, Lee Sing convened a meeting one night at his home, then on Sixth Avenue, Barataria. Many front bench Tapia members attended. Lloyd Best and his colleagues politely listened open-mindedly. We knew in advance that importing the Tapia leader to run the PNM was a political no-go for precisely the reason that a mere change of a leader or of a government, for societies in the process of becoming, is best described as “small change’’.
The implied thinking in the minds of a handful of PNM suitors was that the so-called greatness of their party and its right to prevail was to be achieved at all costs.
This external approach to solve the challenge of political leadership in the PNM confirmed another fact. That the culture of “Doctor Politics’’ was so ingrained, some felt that it was necessary to replace one Williams with Best, or even outside a Rudranath Capildeo with Williams.
In Lee Sing’s case there is a potent irony still: He seems to have formed a party on terms that will reinforce the regime of centralised control that he vehemently abhors. We cannot say more because we know little about where he stands on the full gamut of policies on regime change.