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Understanding ethnic voter realities

Trinidad Express / “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts” is a quote from Daniel Moynihan that Kamal Persad (Express, July 15) should keep in mind, particularly since he chides Raffique Shah for not using available empirical data to discuss ethnic voting. In our country the promise of multi-ethnic parties is a dream that is yet to be fulfilled. The PNM in their charter proclaimed “we are a rally, a convention of all and for all, a mobilisation of all the forces in the community, cutting across race and religion, class and colour, with emphasis on united action by all the peoples in the common cause.” In 1956, they added to the African core, the mixed race, Europeans, Chinese and a significant slice of the Indian middle class. That experiment went awry. In the NAR we tried the “rainbow party” under the rubric of “One Love” with joint leaders Basdeo Panday and ANR Robinson. This is the context of the cited Selwyn Ryan quote. It was “an unprecedented alignment of disgruntled Indians and Creoles” (Premdass, 1996). John La Guerre and Ann Marie Bissessar (2013) commented that it was jettisoned for narrow political aims. Mr Panday took his political bloc and walked away from ANR Robinson who was left with the “third constituency” which was incapable of electoral victory. The PNM returned to power. Mr Panday proclaimed in the next election “time to love again…in a UNC bed under the rising sun”. Patrick Manning’s arrogance (win alone, lose alone) cost him. Steve Ferguson, Ish Galbaransingh and Brian Kuei Tung brought money, media savvy and professional skills which broadened the core Indian appeal by focusing on crime and economic hardship. The People’s Partnership learned and created a coalition of the Indian base with visible African leadership. How do we explain Kamla Persad-Bissessar, representing NAR in Siparia losing by a five to one margin to a UNC candidate in 1991? How do we understand that the UNC vote concentrated since 1961 in the sugar belt could guarantee a third of all seats but after the NAR disintegration neither the PNM (save for one seat) nor the UNC generally put up a non-ethnic in a safe seat (Premdass 1996)? Mr Ryan answers in the New York Times (January 1996) “… 90 per cent of Black and Indian voters each supported the parties identified with their racial group”. Mr Panday was astute in his understanding that “…no one single group can run to the exclusion of other groups…” in the crafting of his victory. Kamla Persad-Bissessar in 2011 understood his message. The La Guerre and Bissessar 2013 book is required reading for those interested in multi-ethnic politics. They point out that ethnicity—race and culture—is a powerful predictor complicated by demographic changes (resulting in “marginal’’ seats) and the fluidity of opinions because of educational changes. Broad economic issues are critical. Narrow partisan appeals, of which there is an increase, divide the country and make it ungovernable. Mr Persad ought to be careful. Noble Philip via e-mail

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