Trinidad’s governing Hindu-led People’s Partnership (PP) government got the worst political shock in its three years in government when an Afro-Trinidadian former cabinet minister, who just weeks ago formed his own party, defeated the government candidate in a heavily Indo-Trinidadian heartland district that the PP would have overwhelmingly won under any other circumstances.
But the man who ran for the Central Trinidad seat was Austin Jack Warner, the former National Security Minister who was booted out of the Cabinet in April in the wake of a corruption scandal linked to his days as a powerful former vice president of FIFA, the world governing body for soccer.
The FBI is currently probing Warner’s role in a web of international dealings that involves family members, American soccer officials and others connected with the game.
Warner, 70, is the main who had put together the multiparty PP group that won the May 2010 general elections. He was also one of its main financiers and is widely accepted as the most efficient minister and the Cabinet member who was untainted by widespread and credible allegations of domestic corruption involving government officials, their friends and family.
Blaming his exit from Cabinet on “a Hindu cabal,” Warner resigned from all his positions in government, his seat in Parliament and his position as chairman of the Indo-dominated UNC to seek a fresh mandate from the Chaguanas West constituency.
On Monday night, he won nearly 70 percent of the vote in a district that is about 80 percent Indo-Trinidadian, winning more than twice the number of votes of the candidate that the PP had put up against him.
The fact that traditional supporters of the PP could desert the party in such drastic numbers has already led to calls for fresh elections and signals from some Cabinet members and government legislators that they will cross the floor to Warner’s newly minted Independent Liberal Party (ILP) and reduce its comfortable house majority.
Reporting on Monday night’s embarrassing victory government defeat, the Trinidad Express said, “If Warner was the winner, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was the loser. Thirty-six months into her leadership, this was the second campaign in which the prime minister led the charge that has ended in defeat. Coming months after the Tobago House of Assembly, this loss is perhaps more devastating because it was in a traditionally safe UNC-PP constituency.”
The prime minister has to call local government elections by October. Warner’s ILP is likely to contest seats, but it will have to do well against the Afro-supported People’s National Movement (PNM) to solidify its ambitions as a major force. The PNM is likely to do well. This would foreshadow defeat for the PP in the 2015 general elections.
“Like David, we came up against the might of Goliath and won. One lesson to be learnt is that a government must listen and respond. Government must be from the ground up, not the top down,” Warner said in his victory speech.