Us Elections Kidnapping
Snapshots of victory
By JUDY RAYMOND
Balisier House, Monday, 7 pm: A backdrop is still being hung on the platform at the west end of the car park where Patrick Manning will speak later. Outside in the road, corn soup and sweet drink vendors are setting up their pots and coolers. A few people are starting to straggle into the grounds. I’m here much too early, but the suspense in the newsroom was unbearable. This is the third year in succession I’ve been at Balisier House on election night. I catch myself thinking, “Next year I’ll go to Rienzi Complex.” Then I remember elections aren’t supposed to be annual events.
Reporters are gathering in the big white room upstairs. Inside and out, screens relay the two TV stations. Throughout the evening, the conflicting soundtracks and pictures reflect the confusion over what’s really happening. Another screen projects a computer spreadsheet showing the PNM’s own figures. They vary widely from those shown on TV6, and always in favour of the PNM.
On TV, UNC lawyer Anand Ramlogan, pontificating among a bunch of other men in suits, is trying to persuade the country that the UNC came from behind but peaked at the right time. He can’t see them losing, he says firmly. They should get at least 18 seats, if not 19. I wonder if his analytical method is any more scientific than mine: I feel the PNM is going to win because at three meetings in the past two weeks they gave me gooseflesh. 10.40 pm: In the slowly filling car park, a woman starts to scream and jump. Another woman joins her and the two of them carry on like that for several minutes.
The rest of the crowd wants to celebrate too, but what? “We take Mayaro,” someone hears. But it’s still doubtful. A TV station has just reported that the Democratic Party is packing up and going home. Citizens Alliance has conceded too
Twenty minutes later, we know that Tobago has gone to the PNM again. There’s wild cheering in front of the screens. On TV the counts are coming thick and fast, but they’re seesawing. Yetming is ahead in St Joseph, Gypsy in Ortoire-Mayaro.
But Eddie Hart is leading in Tunapuna. The crowd gets so noisy you can’t hear the TV announcers. An elderly woman in front of the big screen grips her bosom in both hands so it will jiggle less while she jumps up and down. 11.30pm: Chairs have just been put out on the platform, but none of the candidates have arrived as yet, only backroom boys: Lenny Saith, Keith Sobion, John Donaldson. Then cheers greet former National Security Minister Howard Chin Lee and Ambassador Plenipotentiary Jerry Narace. Chin Lee comes out on the gallery and people are so pleased to see a bigshot, they rush to hug him and shake his hand. “Come back again,” they tell him. Unaccustomed to this adoration, he giggles, helpless with pleasure.
On one of the big screens Basdeo Panday is speaking from Rienzi Complex, but the sound has been cut off. Is he conceding, or is this a victory speech? He looks grim. “Run the music,” calls a man on the gallery. “We done win.”
Hundreds of people are streaming into the grounds, scenting victory. Upstairs, former Senator Christine Kangaloo is dancing, alone but enthusiastically. Tuesday, 12.30 am: “I can’t go through this again,” he murmurs in my ear. “My heart can’t take it.” We’re close as lovers, but he’s a stranger, and I think he’s talking about the election. We’re crushed together against the wall of the corridor downstairs. Despite the squeeze, people are hustling up and down the corridor as if their lives depended on it.
There are some familiar faces: a grave Colm Imbert, a grinning Fitzgerald Hinds, the exuberant Donna Carter, dishing out hugs. A frail-looking Norma Lewis-Phillip insists on hobbling in and out. After several false alarms, shortly before 1 am a troop of perspiring policemen in sweaters muscle their way inside. At the centre are Mr and Mrs Manning.
The crush is so thick the photographers have to hold their cameras over their heads and click at random. The Mannings disappear into the political leader’s office. A few minutes later the policemen storm up and down the corridor again, looking for the easiest way to get the Mannings out of the building and onto the platform at the far end of the car park.
Upstairs, away from the hurly-burly, the elite supporters are peering out through the jalousies for a glimpse of their leader. His theme music starts up: “Come down, father, come down...”
From among the Diego Martin West posse, Fiona Mottley spots me. “You called us yuppies!” she says. “But that’s okay.”
There are three empty champagne bottles on a table in front of them. 2.15 am: Mr Manning finished speaking 45 minutes ago. I’m leaning against the car, waiting for the crowd and the traffic on Victoria Avenue to die down so I can go home.
Mr Manning gave a restrained and gracious victory speech, thanking those responsible and describing the UNC as worthy opponents. “I promised we will beat them in the east...,” he starts, and the crowd laughs with him as he goes through his ritual. But he doesn’t seem quite certain of victory, warning that there might be recounts. He tells the crowd to cool it: “When we leave here, let us do nothing that will bring the party and ourselves into disrepute.” And they are oddly cool.
This is the biggest crowd I’ve seen in my three years here. It took 15 minutes to get out of Balisier House to my car, just around the corner. It’s like a Carnival Monday night, not just because you can hear pan and party music, and not because of any jumping-up — there isn’t any, at least not out in the street. It’s like Carnival Monday because there are thousands of young people, mostly young black men, standing at the side of the road just looking on. There’s a pan side trundling down Victoria Avenue, a DJ blasting in the car park, but the youths aren’t taking them on. Election night 2000 brought defeat; in 2001, there was confusion. The last time was 11 years ago, and they were small children then. Maybe they just don’t remember how to celebrate a PNM victory.