If there is anything surprising about the political fiasco engulfing Tobago’s ruling Progressive Democratic Patriots, it would be the speed at which the relationship between its two top leaders has exploded.
The fact that it has been so dramatic and public is hardly surprising, given the well-known penchant of PDP leader Watson Duke for acts of high drama.
It doesn’t take much to figure out what’s happening here. Yesterday’s declaration by Duke that “the PDP is owned by Watson Solomon Duke” amid references to Chief Secretary Farley Augustine as “a child” was eloquent about his view on where power should reside. His decision to publicly detonate their relationship with his video post over the weekend can therefore be read as a move to rebalance the power dynamic in his favour.
With Duke having relinquished his executive portfolios and about to establish himself as a third force in the Tobago House of Assembly, Chief Secretary Augustine should turn to history to see the future that lies ahead. An informative period would be 1987 when the government of the National Alliance for Reconstruction imploded, sending a substantial fraction of the party into Opposition against the Robinson administration. The impact of an economic recession compounded by having two opposition parties in Parliament was so corrosive on the NAR administration that it culminated in a failed coup followed by a complete electoral rout in the 1991 general election, apart from the two seats in Tobago.
For PDP supporters, the Duke-Augustine breakup must be a shattering experience coming so soon after a euphoric victory. The larger issue, however, is the likely impact on all Tobagonians who should be bracing for a prolonged period of instability.
With Duke claiming ownership of the party in power and painting Augustine as a straw man and usurper, the legitimacy of the THA executive will become the decisive issue, if not immediately, then soon enough, especially if Duke wins over one or two other assemblymen or women to his side.
The solution to this impasse is within the THA Act, but it would require political confidence and courage, neither of which was evident in other administrations facing similar challenges. The Tobago electorate, like all electorates, deserves to be governed by an administration with the political legitimacy to act on its behalf. They do not deserve to be torn between PDP-A and PDP-B teams for the next three years. Instead of being dragged out destructively, the question of who should govern Tobago could be settled expeditiously and cleanly by a quick return to the polls. This would depend, however, on whether Augustine fancies his chances of re-election as leader of a new party.
In Barbados, faced with an undercurrent of grumbling, and recognising the tough and potentially unpopular decisions ahead, Prime Minister Mia Mottley stunned the opposition by calling an election two years ahead of time. It was a well-calculated gamble that paid off big in giving her an emphatic 30-0 victory and a new five-year term.
With Duke having shown his hand, the public awaits Augustine’s move.