Prove me wrong, PNM

By Raffique Shah
November 17, 2013

Raffique ShahMuch to the dismay of its detractors, the People’s National Movement (PNM) bounces back like the proverbial bad penny almost ritually every five years since it first lost an election in 1986. In the current political scenario, unless the 57-year-old party shoots itself in the head, the incumbents discover some magical elixir, or a mass uprising, a kind of “Trinidad spring”, occurs and spawns something new and exciting, the PNM will return to power in 2015.

This would hardly be a progressive step, of course. For a country that has such immense potential, we remain trapped in a time warp, a Singapore-of-the-West that remains incapable of fully exploring its possibilities. For this sad state of affairs, the PNM must take much blame since it was in government longer than any other party or combination of parties.

Realistically though, whenever parties that are worse at governance than the balisier bunch have taken the nation to the brink or on a dangerous path, the PNM has returned to power based largely on the perception that it offers stability, whatever that is worth.

Last week, I showed how and where the PNM has recovered from the Partnership-drubbing it suffered in 2010, and why it seems set to regain power. Even in its darkest elections hours, the PNM retains a base that, while it has shrunk in the past 20 years, is solid. In 2010, for example, it won only 12 of 41 electoral seats, but it garnered almost 40 per cent of votes cast (the Partnership won with 60 per cent).

In 1986, when it was decimated 33-3 by the NAR, the PNM still enjoyed 32 per cent of votes cast to the winner’s 66 per cent. In the intervening elections, the PNM’s lowest share of the votes cast was 45 per cent (in 1991 and 2007). So even though it never won a huge number of seats (its best was 26 in 2007), the support it received was at all times significant.

Of course, its support base post-1986 declined from the halcyon era of 1961-1981. In that period, the PNM consistently commanded an absolute majority, polling more than 50 per cent. There are those who insist that the voting machines, used between 1961 and 1971, were rigged to favour the PNM’s 66 per cent control of the number of seats in Parliament.

How they explain the PNM’s repeat performance when the ballot box was restored in 1976—same margin of victory, and around 53 per cent of the votes—defies logic. I should add by way of comparison that the UNC, other than in its first foray at the polls in 1991 (29 per cent), has also maintained an above-45 per cent average at every election. The difference is that while the UNC enjoys high voter turnouts in its core constituencies, this invariably does not translate into seats.

Voter turnout for the PNM in what can be deemed its support base declined since 1971, something I attribute to the impact of the 1970 Black Power revolution, which eroded some of that core. However, except in a few constituencies that are overwhelmingly Indian, the PNM’s support across the country is spread more evenly than the UNC’s.

In the current scenario, PNM supporters who voted the Partnership in 2010 to register their disgust with Patrick Manning’s insensitivity to the popular will are returning home. More importantly, that important block of voters who hold allegiance to no party, but who put the country’s interest first, are leaning towards the PNM.

So barring any unforeseen developments over the next 15 months or so, the PNM would return to office, albeit with a narrow margin of victory.

As I remarked earlier, this does not signal any dramatic development for the betterment of the country. The PNM of today, other than having a new leader in Keith Rowley, has said or done nothing different to what it did in 1991 or 2000 or 2010. In fact, its key spokespersons speak wistfully about continued industrialisation, presumably hoping to resurrect the aluminium smelter plant and similar heavy industries that people rejected the last time around. The prohibitively expensive rapid rail mass transit system remains Colm Imbert’s pet project. In essence, PNM’s handling of the economy will hardly differ from the UNC’s—same old, same old. Put another way, what will the PNM do differently with respect to housing that is misdirected, hence chronically inadequate? What of social mitigation programmes that fail to reach the neediest? An education system that is systemically weak, premised on laptops for all and tertiary education of dubious quality but wanton quantity? Nothing. I challenge the PNM to prove me wrong.

Worst of all, there is the arrogance of peewats-come-to-power that is transient among the UNC types, simply because they are transients, but institutionalised in the PNM, because they think they own the country.

Is this country prepared to digest another dose of Imbert-in-office? Or a mannequin who proclaims in Parliament, as if she were in the sacristy, “I am a Christian with a big C?”

I repeat, prove me wrong, Keith.

3 Responses to “Prove me wrong, PNM”


  • It is unfortunate that what we have to offer as an alternative is probably more questionable than either the PNM or UNC. COP just have not yet performed the funeral service but is in the mortuary waiting on the pastor carry on with the burial rights. The ILP is another version of the UNC, it has often been labelled as the UNC (C) – UNC, COP (UNC(B)). The UNC is yet to show that it is serious about governing (pragmatically), it’s COP partners enjoy the perks of governance and ILP is hoping that the base of the UNC would turn to it as a better manager than the one in power now. Whilst the PNM has governed for most of the post independence years it has yet to show that it takes the interest of those who put it in office seriously. The one thing we can and should expect is a disciplined and trustworthy manager and also a healthy treasury. As it stands right now every department of government is in dis-array and it would take more than a simple re-organization to bring things back into any form of normalcy. Complete overhaul is what will have to be taken in order to bring back some semblance of manageability to bring back effective service to the population. It can easily be said that that this government is suffering from Reshmi-itis where it’s appointments are all suspects, it’s adherent to good standards suspect and equally suspect is the qualifications of it’s managers. It would be ‘suspect’ to elect Jack to run the next administration because he came from the same cloth as the one we have presently and never bothered to tell us what was going on until he was rejected by them, plus he has a whole lot of self-cleansing to do himself before he can legitimately claim to be clean. The COP has done nothing to show it’s independence from the UNC and only appears to do the bidding of what it is asked to do. This leaves us only with the PNM and whilst not attractive, it is the only safe bet we have going for us.

  • It is true that the PNM base will support their party, however there are other factors that “engineer” a PNM win. Keith Rowley as Opposition Leader won his seat by 7,000 plus votes last election, Warner won his seat the highest ever for a politician by 19,000 votes. If all things being equal Warner obtained almost 3 to 1 votes. The way the seats are divided there are over representation in PNM areas and under representation in non- traditional PNM areas. This was historically Eric Eustace Williams “fixing” the boundaries to determine PNM victory all the time. Once boundaries are set it will not change despite population decline.

    The other factor is a “floating vote”. The floating vote represents a section of the population that is not align to the UNC or PNM. They can turn things in favour of any of the two parties especially in the marginal areas. The last week can determine an election.

    Then there is the third factor, the PNM open the door to over 50,000 islanders and immediately gave them ID cards and told them to vote. They form the defacto voter bank that comes to visit around election time and to collect pension, nice Islanders. Keith Rowley outline the PNM strategy in the Chaguanas West General elections. He said that family loyal to the PNM live in certain none traditional PNM areas and their relatives register their names to vote at those family address. John Henry lives in Port of Spain but visits his sister Elisa Henry on weekends in Couva and is registered to vote in Couva. He knows the area well goes to the bar and is familiar with the area politics.

    The fourth factor for the PNM is massive mobilization, everyone who could make it to a polling station makes it on Election Day. The ” poor houses” are emptied. For them election is treated as a life or death event.

    The fifth factor is a strong religious coming together of the PNM faithful.

    The combination of these factors along with a control of media and message excites the PNM masses and dull those who either choose to stay away from voting or find it an unnecessary exercise.

    The next election for the PNM is the utilization of their symphatizers in the IC, police and DPP. It is not going to be about issues but personal attacks as Warner did on the UNC. There are no Scarborough Hospital or Toruba Stadium built by the UNC to cause the raging bull to go into “heat”, but rather it would be more personal attacks from the balisier war machine…targeted at the usual suspects.

  • Very interesting and objective article by Raf and an interesting analysis by Mamoo. I concur that the PNM is not the solution. It definitely identifies that there is a vaccuum of leadership in this country. Same old same old. The culture of corruption and nepotism is embedded in all of us, shame to admit it. That legacy of small mindedness that plays out there did not begin overnight, it was entrusted on us e.g., that scholarship fund that was secretly administered. In fact it would be interesting to statistically see what the returns were for that investment. I distinctly remembered where some scholarship ‘earners’ were having no end of fun in London, England, wining, dining, travelling the continent whereas I had to sweat my a.. out by working and studying but I made it. and Raf crystalized it, “Worst of all, there is the arrogance of peewats-come-to-power that is transient among the UNC types, simply because they are transients, but institutionalised in the PNM, because they think they own the country”. The leaders we had Panday(UNC)and Dookeran (COP)who tried to bridge that ethno divide especially in the public service, Warner (ILP) who broke the racial divide and joined hands with the opposition at the time made tremendous effort but was let down by their own kind (borrowed from 3 boar rats can’t live in the same hole (NAR). We Trinis need a cultural overhaul in principles and values. I agree we have offered so much to the outside world e.g., carnival, cuisine etc. but there is the need to get our house in order. The solution is not black or indian it is quality leadership.

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