That the third party has no relevance in our politics is a myth that lots of people subscribe to and believe to be fact as a consequence. It is not so.
In the election of 1976, the number of parties that contested that election was in excess of four but the main contenders outside of the dreamers and spoilers were the PNM, the DLP; the SDLP; the DAC and the newly formed ULF.
In the chronological sequence of the parties, the ULF was the fifth party in that lineup and when the results came out that night in ‘76, it emerged as the 2nd party beating out the DLP, the SDLP and the DAC as the main opposition party and many analysts of the time felt it might have beaten the PNM to become the government had it not make serious strategic errors in campaigning based on its over-confidence and the mortal fear it struck in the hearts of north Trinidad that a south/central-based party led by persons of questionable ideology (communist Panday) were on the cusp of taking over T&T.
So not only did the fifth party wipe out its rivals to become the opposition in 1976, but in its generic composition with Panday as its leader, it went on to become the main constituent arm of the NAR party of 1986—which went on to defeat the PNM for the first time—in a landslide victory.
That, however, is not an aberration or an isolated incident because after the NAR dismantled, the UNC was formed in 1988 and three years later in 1991 it fought the election of that year as the third party—second to the NAR and the PNM—and in getting more seats than the NAR, it became the second party and four years later it became the first party forming government in 1995.
Many analysts felt that the UNC as the third party to the NAR and the PNM might have won the GE in 1991 had Panday not got into an unnecessary internecine fight with his executive—which distracted from its fight with the other two parties—which were both out of favour with the voting population.
As evidence that this theory had validity, in forming the government just four years later, it showed that voters had acquired a soft spot for Panday and that the PNM was no longer invincible. When he won again in 2000, Panday proved beyond any doubt that a strong third party could evolve into the first party and government.
With two parties now in a sort of deadlock, a political standoff, the creation and emergence of a third party beckons.
In 1981 Karl Hudson Phillips’ ONR Third Party seemed on the verge of not just becoming the second party but the PNM was afraid that it would lose government to this new party—only because Karl had put together a team that was dynamic and charismatic and like Kerry Packer in cricket, they had introduced a new dimension into our politics.
So why did the ONR not win a “damn seat” as Chambers biblically commanded? Karl was a feared figure in this country, and while the ONR was rolling over all opponents with its glamorous team, Karl’s baggage was weighing down the party as their defeat would show without a doubt.
What, however, the ONR established was that a third party with a credible leader packed with dynamic, charismatic candidates has not just a tight squeeze in the configuration, but since people ask where are all the bright people, why are they not in any of the other two parties, this new third party could easily answer that question by reaching out to them, embracing them in a spirit of seeking to make irrelevant those who wish to maintain the status quo of their entrenched mediocrity. Excellence is available in abundance in this country.
Let’s show the naysayers.