Caribbean Politics : The 2 Parties That Use the Balisier as Their Official Symbol

Unless they left the country before 1956 and have heard nothing about it and never been back since, literally no Trinbagonian can say that they don’t recognise the balisier flower as the symbol of the People’s National Movement (PNM). The party that was formed 6 years before Trinidad and Tobago gained independence has made the balisier flower instantly recognisable and associable with its name in the eyes of everyone in Trinidad and Tobago, regardless of whether they support the party or not, such that one would indeed be hard pressed to think of another symbol as universally recognised in the twin island republic’s political history. The balisier is the PNM, and the PNM is the balisier.

However, it turns out that the PNM in Trinidad isn’t the only Caribbean political party to use the balisier flower as its symbol. In Martinique – a French overseas territory – the Martinican Progressive Party (Parti Progressiste Martiniquais or PPM in French) has used the balisier as its logo since its establishment in 1958, or just 3 years after the PNM chose it as its symbol.

The following is an interesting brief side by side comparison of the 2 balisier parties – PNM and the PPM:

1) Party founders: both parties were founded by intellectuals after their return from a decade in their respective colonial mainland during which they were shaped by their experience with exclusion. 

PNM (1956)

PPM (1958)

Founder: Dr. Eric Williams

Eric Williams was born on 25th August 1911.

He studied history in England from 1932-1938. He experienced discrimination first hand while in Britain, and this influenced his future commitment to politics.

Williams went on to become prime minister of an independent Trinidad and Tobago from independence in 1962 to his passing in 1981.

His political career lasted 26 years.

Founder: Aimé Césaire.

Aimé Césaire was born on 26th June 1913.

He studied literature in France from 1931-1939 and became determined by his experience of inequality in France to defend the identity of black people in France.

Césaire served as an MP of a Martinique constituency in the French National Assembly from 1945-1998 and simultaneously as mayor of Fort de France from 1945-1951.

His political career lasted 56 years.

2) Political position: both are centre-left 

PNM PPM
Political position: Centre-left

Before the PNM came into being, the political landscape was already dominated by left wing and far-left parties including: Trinidad Working Man’s Association (later known as the Trinidad Labour Party), the Party of Political Progress Groups, the British Empire Workers and Citizens Home Rule Party, The Trinidad Socialist Party, the United Front, and The People’s Democratic Party.

According to Williams, Trinidad & Tobago “for six long years from 1950 to 1956 had to tolerate a coalition government of five individuals with no Party affiliations or no Party programme, portraying the notorious individualism of the Trinidad character and the Trinidad society in its worst possible light.”

The PNM was intended to remedy this state of affairs in addition to ushering the country into independence.

Before the collapse of the West Indies Federation, Williams’ PNM was a key member of the West Indies Federal Labour Party, alongside Jamaica’s Norman Manley and Barbados’ Grantley Adams.

When he formed the party, Eric Williams drafted in Dr Patrick Solomon, former leader of the defunct Caribbean Socialist Party, as his lieutenant.

Political position: Centre-left

Aimé Césaire was a member of the French Communist Party at first, from the 1940s to the mid-1950s, before leaving the party in 1956 due to lack of common ground with it (he thought the Communists didn’t prioritize issues that were crucial to colonised peoples), and eventually branching out on his own in 1958 with the PPM.

The PPM works to secure strong autonomy for Martinique as a French overseas territory. For national elections they support the French Socialist Party.

3) Electoral setbacks: Both parties are largely successful but have some blemishes on their respective electoral records. 

PNM in 1986

PPM in 2015

As any Trinidadian would know, the PNM went undefeated in elections for its first 3 decades of existence. Unless you’re a stickler for detail and count the federal election in 1958 which they lost by 4 seats to 6 to the Democratic Labour Party umbrella group, the PNM held sway in election after election until 1986, 5 years after Dr Williams’ passing, when they were routed by the National Alliance Coalition, winning only 3 of 36 seats compared to 33 for the NAR. The PPM has always had generally strong showings in the myriad types of elections that exist in the French system. For reference, whereas Trinidad and Tobago has 2 types of elections i.e. general and local government elections following the British system, France and thus Martinique has 7: presidential, municipal, regional, European, legislative, departmental and senatorial.

In December 2015, the PPM hit a serious snag when they captured only 18 of 51 seats in its local assembly in regional elections.

4) Party slogans:

Building a nation together (PNM)

Autonomy for the Martinican Nation (PPM)

5) Academic work of party founders: Both Dr Eric Williams and Aimé Césaire produced world renowned scholarly works. 

DR ERIC WILLIAMS – CAPITALISM & SLAVERY

AIME CESAIRE – DISCOURSE ON COLONIALISM

Dr Williams is author of the seminal work Capitalism and Slavery (1944), in which he laid bare the falsehood that was the argument that Britain abolished slavery for moral reasons. He posited instead that economic considerations were solely behind the decision. Aimé Césaire penned Discourse on Coonialism (1950). The book became a landmark work in postcolonial studies, and can best be summed up by its hard hitting opening charge “Europe is indefensible”.

These make for some interesting parallels to say the least, right?

#OneCaribbean 

 

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