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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Deadlock continues in Trinidad's parliament
Election rally of an opposition party
A high turnout in the elections led to political stalemate
Emma Joseph

It's a humid evening in Trinidad and people young and old are relaxing in a local bar in the capital Port-of-Spain.

The walls are white, and local art, often very colourful, brings the whole place to life.

It is several months since the country went to the polls.

Despite a healthy turnout, an inconclusive election and political deadlock along racial lines have paralysed political life.

The Trinidad senate has now intervened and is desperately trying to bump-start politics by amending the constitution.

The nine senators have said it is their responsibility to step in and are due to begin meeting in June in an effort to break the deadlock.

And the political parties have acknowledged the need to change the aged constitution.

Mixed society

In the bar, one African girl with dreadlocks laughs with her friend an Indian man. The people are like the art, there is every colour in this room.

I ask one woman what she can see. She tells me there are not only mixed individuals but also purer races like white, black, Hispanic, some Chinese and even Caribs.

The islands' white sandy beaches are host to many holiday makers
Indian boys catch crabs on the beach
Five hundred years of colonisation by the Spanish, the French and then the British has brought all the world's races together on this small mountainous Caribbean island.

Europeans, former African slaves, Indian labourers, Chinese and even Syrians have all settled in Trinidad. The Caribs and the Arawaks, are the indigenous population.

Today the two main racial groups are Indians who slightly outnumber the second biggest group, the Africans.

Many people in this oil-rich and culturally mixed country agree that for the most part the races live in peace with each other, quite a few even inter-marry.

As one man told me "people live together, they work together their children go to school together, without any kind of antagonism, but at the level of politics there is".

Race and politics

Race has always been an issue in the politics of Trinidad, especially since independence in 1962.

In the last four decades the twin island republic which includes Tobago, has been governed mainly by the People's National Movement (PNM), a party that attracts a lot of African support.

President Arthur Robinson
President Arthur Robinson had a difficult choice after an inconclusive election
Then in 1995 an Indian politician, Basdeo Panday, and his United National Congress (UNC) party came to power.

The UNC won elections again in 2000, but then lost their majority less than a year later, and the prime minister was forced to go to the polls. The result was historic.

Last December's elections gave the mainly Indian UNC and the mainly African PNM the same number of seats in the house.

President Arthur Robinson had to decide who should run the country.

He picked the PNM. But more than six months later, the parliament still hasn't opened, a speaker of the house hasn't been elected, and government is at a standstill.

Stalemate raises tensions

Some Indians told me that they did feel a sense of unease.

Basdeo Panday
Basdeo Panday is ready for another election
One young man even admitted that nowadays he can't even joke with his African friends who support the PNM.

But both races agree that the current political stalemate isn't helping anyone.

Many are worried that another election could lead to the same result, some lament the lack of choice.

"All we have are two main political parties in an adversarial situation and that's been going on for quite a while" says Brother Resistance, a well known African Trinidadian.

Many islanders, and particularly the growing mixed community want to be able to choose a government that reflects society more accurately.

Two political parties have recently emerged claiming to do just that.

Almost 40 years after Trinidad gained independence from the British, and after decades of electing governments on the basis of race, more people are saying that they want a change.

The country will have to wait and see whether Trinidadians vote for this change, and do away with voting patterns that appear to fail the majority.

See also:

07 Apr 02 | Americas
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