When Afro former National Security Minister Austin Jack Warner recently broke away from the governing People’s Partnership (PP) to run as an independent and trounced the government in a traditional Indian stronghold in central Trinidad, the move sent shivers down the political spine of those in the corridors of power.
After all, Warner was not only a senior cabinet minister who had acted as Trinidad and Tobago’s prime minister at least five times in the absence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar but he was also the chairman of the Indo-dominated United National Congress (UNC), which is by far the largest single party in the coalition.
So when he opted to resign his Chaguanas West parliamentary seat and seek a fresh mandate from the district’s mostly East Indian residents, many in government thought that he did not stand a ghost of a chance even though polls over the years had shown him to be the best performing minister and the most popular of the twin island’s 41 members of parliament.
In a stunning defeat of the establishment, Warner, 70, a former vice president of FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, moved a step further to form his own Independent Liberal Party (ILP) and to warn that he plans to run in every single constituency in upcoming local government elections around October and general elections scheduled for 2015.
The win sparked calls among panicky cabinet ministers and PP supporters for a postponement of the municipal elections but the prime minister emphatically put this to rest this week by saying such elections will go ahead as planned.
Officials had cited the need for reforming local government legislation as an excuse to put the elections off to next year and give government a chance to regroup and reorganize its supporters in the wake of growing dissatisfaction over sleaze and corruption, administrative incompetence and other ills besetting the coalition after three years in office.
“Win, lose or draw,” the elections will be held on time,” the prime minister told reporters in Port of Spain. “Some people found that we should have postponed it. I am not of that view. I believe that we owe it to the electorate. I believe that we had promised that on our platform and in conversations in the elections in 2010. We had always said that we would hold elections when they are due and that is my intention to so do. The local government elections will be held within the time frame set by law. There will be no postponement of those elections.”
But in speaking with the media, she also let slip the effect that Warner and his band of political merry men and women had on the governing coalition and Warner’s ability to bite into its strongholds given the loyalty he has engendered while in government and as chairman of the UNC.
She noted that “after Chaguanas West all the MPs got a lesson and they are back out on the ground. They became very concerned in dealing with governance that they forgot the ground and they are back out on the ground. So it is not a campaign—it is what we should do as MPs.”