Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s statement on Saturday suggesting that the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 situation can lead to a repeat of the 1990 insurrection, is another sad reflection of the depths to which our politics have sunk.
As she sought to condemn Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and the Government’s pendulum swing from the great promise of the previous Saturday’s news conference to the tempered tone of Saturday’s, Persad-Bissessar felt that the government had led the country down a path toward civil unrest and gave a warning, “We cannot have a 1990 repeat.”
We hold no misplaced illusion that an Opposition and its leader must use the most fragrant language. This is politics and a good democracy requires an Opposition to strongly oppose any perceived action that can result in the hardship of its people.
The Opposition is the first check against oppressive governance and must necessarily be harsh and hard-hitting many times.
But surely, Persad-Bissessar, as a former prime minister, seasoned politician, former attorney general and an attorney, must know that to invoke the memory of the 1990 uprising in the way it was done, was reckless and dangerous.
Persad-Bissessar is no mere commentator. The results of the 2020 General Election showed her support base to be no fewer than 309,188 people, counting only those who went to the polls.
We’d be surprised if, given her extensive experience, she does not yet understand that every statement she makes can potentially be absorbed as doctrine by those she leads, particularly in a nation strongly split between two main political forces.
To point out the difficulties that the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on many is one thing. But when human suffering is aligned to the possibility of another 1990 attempted coup, ugly seeds can be sown in the minds of those easy to indoctrinate.
At a time when desperations are heightened by losses of income and depressed living standards, such words can more easily find fertile ground.
It may be that Persad-Bissessar felt there was something to gain here. Maybe if she could rile up her support base enough to spread even more condemnation of the Government, it could win more people over to the UNC.
But we have used this column countless times to warn of Pyrrhic victories. No political gain is worth inculcating the nation’s darkest days in the minds of desperate people.
This cannot be passed off as the adversarial politics we need to keep our democracy strong when it is in fact quite the opposite.
Perhaps we can remind the Opposition Leader of the stance she took eight years ago after the passing of the great South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.
As prime minister, Persad-Bissessar was given the option of inviting one person to the funeral in Pretoria with her. She chose to carry then Opposition Leader, Dr Rowley.
The nation remembers photos of them standing side by side, fists upraised, united in celebration of a man who dedicated his life to unity.
On her return, Persad-Bissessar had this to say: “We too are capable of making a difference and bringing about the changes we want to see. We too can set aside our differences, be they political or otherwise. As I said in South Africa, both Dr Rowley and I have different political views and at times we will disagree. But there is one thing we will always agree on and that is we all want to see a better T&T.”
We’d be a better nation today if these words were to still hold the significance they held back then.