By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 11, 2011
In March I supported the candidacy of Penny Beckles to become the chairman of the PNM because I thought she was the better candidate. Many of my friends, including Louis Lee Sing and Ferdie Ferreira, felt that Franklyn Khan was the better candidate not necessarily because he was more accomplished than Penny but because he is an Indian. In his now-famous words, Comrade Lee Sing declared: “If we don’t elect Khan as our chairman the PNM will become a N….Party.”
The PNM elected Khan chairman under dubious circumstances–Beckles lost by three votes and the party destroyed the ballots immediately after the election—and, in a cruelly ironic way the party is shaping up to become just the opposite of what Comrade Lee Sing wanted: an intellectually bankrupt party that places its fate at the mercy of an inept chairman and a political organization (Congress of the People) that is yet to find its identity and may be searching for another leader.
How does one explain Khan’s ill—considered remarks? How does the chairman of a party, four years before a prospective election, throw in the towel, declare defeat and call upon his party to enter into a coalition with an entity that barely holds its own in another coalition and is disrespected by its present partner. Just ask Jack Warner, the chairman of the PP, how he feels about Winston Dookeran, political leader of COP? His answer might give us a clue about COP’s political vitality.
Such considerations did not faze Khan when he announced that PNM should give serious thought to entering into a coalition with COP. He spoke with no one; advanced no logical reason why the PNM should do so and what PNM stands to gain from such an association. Joel Primus argues that “he heard Dr. Rowley say something similar on at least two occasions.” We await Dr. Rowley’s thoughts on this matter.
One is not too sure what the party leadership has done since their election in March? First there was the fiasco of the Manning situation which split PNM’s elected representatives, if not the party, down the center. Now, without giving it much thought or granting us advance notice, Chairman Khan has asked the party faithful to think about the possibilities of joining up with COP amidst what Emily Dick—Forde called the deafening silence of the party leadership “on all issues and particularly on this one.”
Before one passes judgment, a few questions are in order:
What has the party leadership done to solidify the party’s national presence since it came into power in March?
What has the general secretary done to consolidate the party and increase party membership since he became the official secretary?
What has the Public Relations Officer done to burnish the image of the party since he was elected to his post?
In what direction (and how) does the leadership plan to take the party over the next four years as we prepare for the next general election?
PNM’s image is at its lowest ebb nationally. With a few notable exceptions, there is little respect for PNM’s legislative team. Few persons can forgive the ignominy of our representative seconding a motion and then running into a bathroom to seek refuge.
When Chairman Khan was ready to read the riot act to the deserters at a subsequent meeting of PNM’s General Council political wisdom prevailed. The party leadership was directed to meet with the legislative caucus to work out a modus vivendi.
No sooner had they arrived at this agreement the political leader left the country for London. Initially, no one seemed to know to which part of the world he had traveled. It was almost as though he was his own man who had no obligation to tell any of his colleagues where he was going or why he felt it necessary to leave the country when he did. We await the outcome of the political fence—mending between the leadership arm and the legislative caucus.
And what about the proposed coalition of which the leadership was unaware? Will this new “political philosophy” as Faris Al—Rawi calls it, be on the agenda of the party’s constituencies meetings and will the party leadership provide guidelines about the merits and/or demerits of the case?
When I supported Ms. Beckles I noted that the intellectual caliber of our party’s leadership was not the highest in the land nor was I convinced they are putting in the hard work that is necessary to make the party successful in the future which explains the attempt at an easy fix: joining with another party before one even thinks about how to strengthen what we have.
But being intellectually astute is not all that is necessary. For 69 years during the last century Canada’s Liberal Party held power. Last week, it finished third in the federal election garnering a mere 19 percent of the votes. Although its leader, Michael Ignatieff, a brilliant historian, taught at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard universities, he failed to connect with the electorate.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper described Ignatieff’s career as evidence of his “frivolity and egotism.” Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party and the official Opposition said mockingly of Ignatieff sporadic attendance in Parliament, “If you are going to apply for a promotion, you at least ought to show up for the job.” He might have been out of the country too long.
Keith Rowley either wants the job or he does not. He cannot disappear when he wants, give ambivalent signals (like “Vote as you want”), or presumed to be lackadaisical on the job. Trinidad and Tobago does not owe Rowley the prime ministership or the PNM the leadership of the country. And while PNM needs to build broad coalitions among disparate groups in the country it is not the same as saying the PNM needs to enter into a coalition with COP.
If the PNM does not do its homework it is not unlikely that it can end up like Canada’s Liberal Party in 2015: that is, in third place among the three parties. If Rowley and Khan do not respond creatively to the challenges the party faces there is no reason why the members of the caucus or the party should respect their leadership abilities.
Rowley and Khan ought to pull up their socks while the public’s gaze still reflects favorable upon them. They may not enjoy that luxury for too long.