The imbroglio in the Tobago House of Assembly and in the PDP demonstrates the fragility of sharing power on a political stage. The arrangement which allowed the PDP’s deputy political leader to become Chief Secretary with the political leader as his deputy always had an air of impermanence. There are few examples of a political leader giving up the top political office to his deputy whilst remaining in office unless they were confident of being the power behind the throne. Such moves always involve political calculus.
In 2003 with a general election looming, David Thompson resigned as political leader of the DLP in Barbados but retained the position of Opposition Leader in Parliament. Having lost the two previous general elections against Owen Arthur, a third defeat would have extinguished any chance of Thompson becoming prime minister. The new political leader, Clyde Mascoll led the DLP to defeat in the 2003 general election. Thereupon, Thompson unseated Mascoll as political leader and went on to win the 2008 election and become the prime minister of Barbados.
Watson Duke has made no secret that his political ambitions extend beyond the THA to include political representation in the national Parliament. Because of this, his position as deputy Chief Secretary with no portfolio was interpreted as a mechanism to facilitate a campaign to secure the Tobago East seat in the next general election and national prominence. Duke’s political activities in the East West corridor are viewed as an effort to move the PDP from being a Tobago political party to a national party with this objective.
Mr Duke has a unique confrontational style and is no stranger to controversy. His approach is populist and charismatic as exemplified whilst head of the Public Services Association or undertaking to swim from Tobago to Trinidad or distributing bread and T-shirts in the corridor. This style depends on largesse and requires a strong funding base. The THA cannot be a source of such funding.
Holding office demands policy, process and accountability and of course transparency demands that conflict with Mr Duke’s operating style. It is not surprising that the issue which caused this fracas revolves around political patronage for a group from his Roxborough constituency. From all accounts the THA supported the group. That Mr Duke chose to champion the group’s pleas for further assistance became a demonstration of his personal power and authority, a matter of personality not principle. In his departing salvo he leaves hints and allegations of corruption playing to the gallery.
One can conclude that Mr Duke saw his role and his office simply a means to wider political clout and that the THA was subservient to this objective. It was inevitable that he would attempt to unseat anyone who felt that they could ignore his demands. Whilst head of NATUC he undermined other unions. Mr Duke is a one-man team.
Rather than a catastrophe, the THA has provided a powerful lesson to the country. The THA’s legitimacy is not in question. They have demonstrated that there is a limit to narrow political opportunism. Further, that personal political ambition must take a back seat to the task of governance and serving the wider interests of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.