IT is a well-established fact that politicians consort with gang leaders and other nefarious characters in the quest for electoral advantage. It is an ugly development in T&T politics, spawned in the vacuum created by decades of poor parliamentary representation which has brought gangsters into the role of political enforcers and organisers of the vote for a price. It is a devil’s deal that has corrupted the democratic process, emasculated the parliament and shifted power to dangerous extra-parliamentary forces. Nonetheless, it is an option embraced by politicians in pursuit of office by any means necessary and regardless to price. In this, neither the governing nor opposition party can claim to have clean hands or the moral authority to stand head-and-shoulders above the other.
So inured has the electorate become to this reality that it would surprise no one if politicians from the Opposition United National Congress or any other party were talking to “known criminals and gang leaders” as National Security Minister Stuart Young claimed during a public meeting of the People’s National Movement last Friday night. What might surprise some is if PNM politicians, too, were not in talks with some of the same “known criminals and gang leaders” for whom the only distinction to be made is which politician is offering the better deal.
What is surprising is that Young, as National Security Minister, felt the political platform was an appropriate place to publicise his concern. If, as Minister of National Security, he has reason to believe such talks pose a security threat he should know how to channel the information to bring the matter to a conclusive and pre-emptive outcome. On the other hand, as MP for Port of Spain North/St Ann’s West, one cannot rule out the possibility that his statement was motivated by electoral interest which would amount to playing politics with his national security portfolio.
We recognise that such fine distinctions are lost on our politicians for whom everything is fair game but some lines need to be held if we are to prevent a full descent into a destructive free-for-all.
That being said, Trinidad and Tobago has paid a high price for the reckless desperation of politicians which has opened the door to criminal elements and unleashed forces damaging to our efforts towards a participatory democracy. T&T has survived an attempted coup aimed at leadership change, experienced unsolved bombings and endured the assassination of a former attorney general. These are just some of the highlights in a country that has become comfortable in the assumption of being a stable democracy. There is great danger in such complacency for we close our eyes to the potential for political violence at our own peril.
While everyone has the constitutional right to participate in the affairs of their land, no space should be conceded to organised crime in our politics.
On the contrary, what our politics needs is less vitriol and disrespect and more honour and compassion. A political platform might be the wrong place to inform the country about a death threat against the Attorney General. But even more wrong is the lack of basic civility in the Opposition’s response.