The topic for discussion was “Race, religion and ethnicity in elections in Trinidad and Tobago.” This topic was chosen given the upcoming general elections in Trinidad and Tobago on August 10, 2020.
Moderated by Dr Kumar Mahabir, the speakers were: Tony Fraser, Journalists and Commentator; Ravi Dev, Media Consultant and former Member of Parlaiment of the Guyana; Dr Winfred James, University Lecturer and political commentator and Dr Indira Rampersad, Lecturer in Government at St Augustine Campus, UWI.
Dr Indira Rampersad outlined the voting behaviour in the country that is buttressed by race and ethnicity. She pointed out that over the past few elections, the marginal constituencies determine the winner or loser of the elections. She went on to identify the Muslim community as having some influence in the outcome of few of the marginal and identified Chaguanas East as one such margainals.
Dr. Rampersad was questioned on the assertion that the Muslim votes can swing the marginal seats one way or the other. She responded that she has no empirical evidence and relied on reports she read in the national newspapers.
Dr. James outlined the remnant of colonialism and the white privilege that continue to influence policies in the society. He identified this group as white, RC and wielding much influence in any government.
He noted that the masses -Indians and Africans- are employed in low-paid jobs in both the public and private sectors, though they are in the majority. He added that the masses are unable to amass capital to create business enterprises but remain distrustful of each other as they compete for the limited resources available to them.
James suggested that the masses can become owners of businesses not by voting PNM or UNC but by pooling their resources around the things they are good at and love (e.g., the carnival arts) and producing wealth-creating industries; moving into a locally constructed bourgeoisie and allying themselves with middle income earners in business ventures; shifting the democracy from the follow-the-leader and gimme-gimme models to a participate-in-the-governance-after-the-vote.
James was challenged by a participant who cited the research done by Trevor Sudama who argued that Afro-Trinidad are engaged in manage state enterprise and statutory boards with budget to the tune to billions of dollars. James retorted that the Afro-Trinidadians management of state enterprises in not private ownership as such and was critical of the one percenters who continue to dominate the economy.
Tony Frazer argued that parties should shun ethnic interest and appeal to national interest. Ravi Dev intervened arguing that what is national interest and national culture in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana were determined by the PNM and PNC respectively during the first two decades after independence.
Ravi Dev argued further that race remains the most crucial variable determining voting in T&T and Guyana. He noted that both parties moderate their appeal to attract cross ethnic votes and concluded that in a plural society voting for an ethnic party is affirming ones ethnic identity and pride.
The participants were distinguished academics from across the diaspora- Guyana, Suriname, New York, Toronto, Fiji, London and Trinidad and Tobago- and included Professor Patricia Mohammed, Professor David Debydeen, Dr Anthony Gonzales, Dr Rajden Baldew, Professor Lomarsh Roopnarine, Dr Kirtie Algoe, Dr Brinsley Samaroo, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Dr Ganesh Chand, Dr Rhonda Dookwah and Dr Roger Hosein as well as Rebecca Gookool-Bosland, Kamla Tewarie, Bhagwan Gangaram Panday among others.
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