Win the battle, lose the war

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, September 9th 2007

Patrick ManningPNM leader Patrick Manning must be over-confident about his party’s chances in the general elections that should be held no later than early December. Why else would he trigger tremors in the ruling party at this critical point, virtually on the eve of elections?

Whether or not his “secret poll” on the performances of his MPs prompted five of ten among his frontline parliamentarians to declare their decision to not seek re-election may never be known. If there’s one thing the PNM has been efficient at in its 51-year history, it is keeping secrets within the fold. So while we in the media may speculate, even pronounce on whispers, supposedly from well-placed sources, we shall never know what is true from what is not.

As a student of military strategy and tactics, I know that the leader, having planned a course of action, may alter this in the heat of battle depending on opportunities-or obstacles-he may encounter. But that is what war is all about. The late Mao Tse-tung, a master-tactician and political theorist, opined: politics is war without violence, war is a continuation of politics using violence. Increasingly, politicians and entrepreneurs are turning to the military masters for guidance in their day-to-day activities.

No corporate executive library is complete without a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, which, I imagine sits in politicians’ collections alongside Machiavelli’s The Prince.

But political leaders are hardly interested in real, military-style leadership, which encompasses, among other sterling strengths, complete integrity (huh?), enduring courage, daring initiative, wide knowledge and skilful judgement. One wonders, though, if Manning has exercised good judgement in booting out some incumbents based on a less-than-random sample poll.

As expected, many PNM members have voiced strong criticisms over their parliamentarians’ decisions to not seek nomination. Again, as Reginald Dumas pointed out in his Express column of September 7, this is not the first time a PNM leader has moved against perceived “millstones”.

Dr Eric Williams tried to remove some five MPs in the run-up to the 1976 elections, but he eventually bowed to the wishes of the party’s constituency groups. Eric did not have the last word (he never appeared on their platforms) and the MPs had their say, all of them winning their seats….a case of “crapauds with balisier ties” which Eric had himself created.

Manning may be seeking to give the PNM another makeover, much the way he did in the aftermath of the party’s crushing defeat in 1986, but I question his timing and judgement. At this point the PNM seems to have a virtual open highway to power, what with the UNC strapped with a leader who seems to have gone bonkers, and the COP yet to emerge as a serious threat a la NAR.

In the latter case, we shall get some indication of Winston Dookeran’s appeal at his campaign launch scheduled for today. I should warn Winston, though, that Karl Hudson-Phillips and his ONR looked good on the ground, and even did well in the 1981 elections. But the party failed to win a seat.

What I have been sensing for some time now is the PNM faltering in its strongholds even as it picks up support in traditional opposition constituencies. Last Wednesday night’s “big launch” in the heart of Laventille was far from encouraging, in that we did not see “the hills come down”. There seems to be increasing discontent among traditional PNM supporters in the party’s core constituencies. That has come about because after 50 years of PNM domination if not governance, the masses have little to show for their devotion. It is the well-heeled who can boast of what the PNM did for them. For Manning to tell Laventille folks that they can look forward to landing jobs at the new Hyatt Hotel is not being forthright with them. The majority would be lucky to get past security in the ornate lobby, and the few who do would end up as cleaners or cooks. They can hardly aspire to executive chairs in any of these new smog-scrapers.

Some caring government must be able to move these people past URP and CEPEP and into embracing knowledge which, other than the raw violence that many of the younger ones see as their road to quick bucks, is their highway to economic empowerment. But steeped as so many are in the “gimme gimme” culture, one hears loud rumblings among PNM supporters, from Carenage and Diego Martin to La Brea and Toco. If Manning adds to this winter of discontent by denying them the representatives they, not he, wish to see as candidates, one does not know just what might happen.

But the PNM leader seems to think opposition impotence will return him to power with an increased majority. In pursuit of fashioning a party in his own likeness, Manning may well end up retaining power but losing control of the only vehicle that can take him there. In military-speak, that’s the classical case of winning the battle but losing the war.

2 thoughts on “Win the battle, lose the war”

  1. Why not an expanded poll

    Wednesday, September 12 2007

    The recent flood of announcements by a tide of Ministers of the People’s National Movement (PNM) Administration and back benchers, that they would not be contesting the upcoming General Election, has jolted the Party.

    While I do not question the integrity of the poll, why did the Executive of the PNM, or whoever commissioned it, not seek to have the poll determine, as well, who were the persons outside of the House of Representatives who, in the opinion of those polled, would have been better able to represent the constituents in the around the corner General Election? And why did they think this?

    In addition, the commissioning of the poll represented a departure from what we had earlier borrowed from the Westminster experience, under which the various relevant constituency executives would pass judgment on the performance of their elected Members of Parliament.

    It was standard practice for Government Ministers to be judged, largely, on the basis of their performance as Ministers and the performance of their Ministries. The job of Government Minister is an exacting one, a virtual 24-hour a day job, with immensely less time to service the needs of his/her constituency as, say, a Party back bencher. How would constituents, for example, set out to appraise the constituency contribution of a Minister of Foreign Affairs, whose portfolio may require him to be out of the country, repeatedly?

    Meanwhile, the Party Executive’s position on the issue that no person charged before the Court should be allowed to contest a General Election was a tacit amending of the 1976 Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago without the benefit of Parliamentary approval. I refer, specifically, to the matter in which a Member of Parliament had been freed by the Court of a charge, which carries should there be a conviction, a possible one-month sentence, and the State had appealed his acquittal.

    Section 48 (1) [d] of Chapter 4, Part 1 of the Constitution clearly states: “No person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives who – (d) is under sentence of death imposed on him by a Court or is serving a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called) exceeding twelve months imposed on him by a Court or substituted by competent authority for some other sentence imposed on him by a Court, or is under such a sentence of imprisonment the execution of which has been suspended.” Readers interested in West African history and the Region’s struggle for Independence would recall that when, in the middle 1950s the Gold Coast was struggling for Independence from the British, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah led his Party to victory in the last General Election before Independence, while serving a three-month sentence in prison! The Gold Coast, which reverted to its old name of Ghana, became independent in March of 1957. But I have strayed.

    If, as has been noted in the media, PNM Party members in the several constituencies have come out, publicly, in support of their respective MPs, was the Executive pressure reportedly placed on some of them to resign not in contradiction of the wishes of the constituents?

    For the record, it is of interest that the Ministers of Government and Members of Parliament, who have signified their intention not to contest the next General Election, constitutionally due this year, have not sought, singly or collectively, to challenge PM Patrick Manning’s continuing as Prime Minister and appoint someone from within their ranks to be Prime Minister.

    I have thrown out this theoretical position to demonstrate what could have been possible. Of course, such a course of action would have failed as the Thinking Things Through booklet prepared by the Constitution Commission in 1972 states on Page 41: “The Prime Minister must vacate office or advise that Parliament be dissolved if a resolution of no confidence is passed against him in the House. Prime Minister Manning would have had the proverbial last laugh, however, as the PNM’s rank and file, undoubtedly, would have stood with him, if only in the interest of their Party. I ask the question, and not rhetorically: Why was the poll not expanded by those who commissioned it?,64030.html

  2. It’s interesting to note how as elections draw near, the true colours of people come out. All the idiots in Trinidad fighting one another with misguided passion while the politians sit and laugh with one another.

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