By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 10, 2015
The Trinidad Guardian, it seems, is worried about the PNM’s future, our democracy and the quality of postcolonial democracy in societies such as ours all because the PNM rejected the candidacy of Penny Beckles, a good friend, and the possibility that Patrick Manning will suffer a similar fate.
In its editorial of February 7, the Guardian praised Dr. Eric Williams and offered his example of how one takes care of these matters. It argued: “It could be that PNM founder and T&T’s first Prime Minister had the right approach, when he faced in 1976 the demands by constituency groups for the inclusion of incumbent nominees…. Dr. Williams reluctantly allowed the party to prevail, but not before describing the men as ‘millstones’ around his necks.”
In 1976 Dr. Williams could afford to take that position. He could not do so in 1956 when he contested his first national elections. By 1976 he had ruled the party for 21 years, possessed the overwhelming support of his party (and even the national electorate) and, with the exception of the Federal elections of 1958, had never lost an election.
Dr. Keith Rowley, the leader of the PNM, is not in a similar position. He was elected leader of the party in 2010 after Manning made a disastrous mistake of calling an election before it was due constitutionally (it was the second time he had done so) and lost it. As a result, Dr. Rowley was faced with the monumental task of rebuilding the party. Although Dr. Rowley has won two elections he still has the onerous tasks of continuing to build the party and consolidating his leadership.
Dr. Rowley, in 2015, is not in the same place psychically and/or politically as Dr. Williams was in 1976. Of necessity, his tactics and policies must be different from those of Dr. Williams. Therefore, the Trinidad Guardian’s analogy has little relevance to the problems Dr. Rowley and the PNM face today.
There is another problem with the Guardian’s advice. Manning is a sick man. He may be recuperating nicely but acknowledges that he is still paralyzed and suffers from a speech impediment. Therefore, the party, in its wisdom, must reject his candidacy. He does not have the ability to carry out his functions as a representative of the people.
It would be irresponsible for the party to select Manning or anyone else who is unable to represent his or her constituents fully. The party has no higher obligation than to deny Manning the nomination for the San Fernando East seat. His selection is not in the best interest of the party or its constituents regardless of what the Guardian or the PNM executive of his constituency says.
There is a further downside to Manning’s selection. Let us suppose the PNM wins the next general election by margins of 21-20, 22-19, or even 23-18. Can Rowley count on the unwavering support of Manning in Parliament regardless of whatever promises he makes to him and the party?
Further, if the PNM wins the election by a margin of one seat (21-20) or two seats (22-19), and Manning is one of the parliamentarians, can Rowley be sure that he would emerge as the Prime Minister of the country? Isn’t it possible that Dr. Rowley might be de-jure Prime Minister while Manning emerges as the de facto Prime Minister? In fact, Manning’s one seat or even his ability to convince another Member of Parliament to follow his lead could seriously undermine Dr. Rowley’s ability to perform his duties. No serious leader can take such a chance.
The Guardian and Rowley other detractors have accused the Dr. Rowley of being vindictive and spiteful. It was Manning who disregarded Ken Valley, Fitzgerald Hines, Camille Robinson Regis, Eddie Hart and others and replaced them with persons we never saw before or do not know where they are now. Ironically, it is Dr. Rowley who resurrected Penny and made her Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Louis Lee Sing, the major of Port of Spain.
A wise leader leaves nothing to chance. He anticipates the problems he is likely to face and guard against them. The self-interested and his opponents will always castigate him. His is always the virtue to keep the ship of state steady and to disregard spurious nonsense.
Many in our society take delight in denigrating our leaders. However, Dr. Rowley need not worry about his detractors and the hateful things they say about him. He has the support of those of us who have his best interests and the party at heart.
God willing, he will triumph in the end.