By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 16, 2011
Although I will not be at the PNM’s Party Convention next week, I support Penelope Beckles to be the party’s next chairman because she is best suited for the job. The PNM must throw forth a new group of leaders whom the people can believe in and who can chart a new direction for the country if it wishes to regain the leadership of the society.
I am not impressed fully with the slate of persons who are offering themselves or are being offered for the leadership of the party. They do not represent the best the party has to offer. And while the present leadership cannot be blamed for this shortcoming I would have been happier with a stronger intellectual and politically-savvy team. As a faithful party member I will support who ever comes out victorious and do everything to ensure that we ready ourselves for the general election in 2016.
As we face the future, it is imperative that the leaders of the party and its membership realize it cannot continue business as usual or hope that the model that got us through the first fifty years is necessarily the model that will get us through the next ten years. Old tactics and worn out paradigms must give way to new realities and appreciate the direction in which modern politics is moving.
The party must discard the fallacy that it must have an East Indian chairman if it hopes to win over the East Indian population in the next election. The world is dissatisfied with ethnic politics and is tired of the old notion of one-man-ism. The new political rule seems to be this: if you cannot do the job step aside and let those who can do it. That is the story of the Middle East today. It is the lesson that Trinidad and Tobago is learning. I don’t care how much Trinidad and Tobago loves Kamla and her crew if they do not deliver by 2016 the people will put another government in place to run its affairs.
The vast amount of citizens, particularly the younger ones, does not care whether the alternative is led by an East Indian or an African. In 2016 they will look for knowledge, efficiency, and the ability to mobilize people to realize their better selves. If the PNM can do this then it will be victorious. If they determine that the PNM cannot do the job they will vote for the better alternative. Ethnic politics will continue to subside. As the years go by, it will become a less important factor in electing candidates. PNM should anticipate this eventuality and select the best possible person to run its affairs.
Penny Beckles is a more attractive alternative than Franklin Khan who held the position before. He did not distinguish himself, was not innovative and too beholden to Mr. Manning. He is not likely to change his modus operandi if he is elected a second time to the post. His close alignment to Keith Rowley suggests he will not be an independent chairman.
PNM needs a Chairman who is not beholden to the political leader. He or she should be an independent person who is willing to call the shots as she sees them and take on the political leader when it benefits the party and/or the people.
Penny has served her party with distinction. She has accomplished much but is too inclined to stay in the background. She will have to change this posture if she hopes to be successful. She will have to be more assertive recognizing that the political leader must not and should not always be the only spokesperson of the party.
The PNM has had a surfeit of male leaders. As the second woman chairman of the party she would empower a new cadre of persons within and outside the party. Women—they have been called some derogatory names—have always been the heart and soul of the party. They kept the party alive and stayed in the background while the men ramajeyed in the foreground. After 54 years they ought to become a permanent fixture in the party’s leadership. Penny will give substance to the truth that women are the rock upon which the PNM stands.
The party has not given Penny the appreciation she deserves. In spite of her strength in Arima and the country in general she was passed over as a candidate in the last election. She had the courage to tell Mr. Manning that she would not accept an ambassadorial position which he could not give but which would have had the effect of sidelining her and making her null and void politically.
We are willing to laud Dr. Rowley for standing up to Mr. Manning’s dictatorial behavior. We are not willing to pay the same respect to Penny. She is the only other person in the PNM as far as I know who sought to keep her dignity when so many others were bowing down to Manning and worshipping him. In her own quiet way she demonstrates an integrity that is important for the new PNM.
Dr. Rowley should not use his influence, directly or indirectly, to deny Penny this important position. Were he to do so it would suggest to the larger community that PNM is still entrenched in its old ways in which the leader uses his influence to deny party members the right to select persons who are best equipped to take the PNM in a new direction.
Penny represents a fresh, new female presence in the party that we need as this time. She is not always forceful enough and is not as clear as to where she wishes to take the party. She must stop deferring to Dr. Rowley and stake out a position that is in the best interest of the party. The party must not repeat the one-man-ism that led inevitable to the death of democracy within the party and its discouraging members to differ with their leaders. Penny must lead this fight within the new PNM.
Selecting Penny as the chairman of the PNM will make a huge difference in its future fortunes. It will give new meaning to woman power and equity within the party. Her quiet, forceful presence will ensure the party’s renewal and propel it into the future. PNM members must have the courage to elect her as their new chairman.