By Selwyn Ryan
June 27, 2010 – trinidadexpress.com
Two years ago, Ken Valley expressed the view that Patrick Manning had done some good things for Trinidad and Tobago, and that the People’s National Movement (PNM) ought to protect his legacy. ’If we leave him as political leader, he’ll continue to slide…I have an obligation towards the PNM and Trinidad. If we don’t intervene, the PNM will lose the next election.’ Mr Valley may have been a better prophet than Rev Pena.
But is the PNM dead as some allege? My own view is that even though the party was vanquished in the May Day election, and will probably be trounced in the Local Government Elections, it will neither vanish nor disappear from the political firmament. Great parties do not normally die because they have lost an election.
We note that the party secured 285,354 or 39.5 per cent of the votes cast which was a mere 14,500 less than that which it secured in 2007. Given all that the party had to deal with, especially the misgovernance of its political leader, that was an unbelievable achievement. I had expected the party to lose all but its hard core support. In the absence of exit polls, it is however difficult to determine how many former PNM voters actually switched to the Congress of the People (COP), Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) or the United National Congress (UNC), stayed at home, or remained with their grand old party. Our judgment is that many votes that would normally have gone to the PNM went instead to COP which secured 108,143 or 15 per cent of the votes cast and secured 12 seats. Indeed, the real threat to the viability of the PNM will come from the COP which many middle class blacks now see as a more acceptable option for their political allegiance. COP has in fact inherited the ONR and the NAR constituencies, as well as all the smaller parties that have hitherto challenged the PNM’s hegemony.
The PNM party base however still seems secure, and the new leadership hopes that many who could not bring themselves to ‘vote for dat’, would eventually return ‘home’.
The number returning would depend on how the new Prime Minister and the coalition functions, how the PNM performs in Parliament, and of course how the economy performs. Of critical significance too would be the performance of the new political leader of the party. Mr Rowley has a great deal of support in the Afro-creole community and Tobago, but there are quite a few others who claim that he is too ethnically assertive.
Mr Manning may have had this in mind when he sought to maintain a place in the leadership circle on an interim or provisional basis, hoping perhaps that he might be politically reborn, and that God might contrive to have him in place to conclude his mission in the event that the coalition came apart as occurred in 1987.
Manning, however, eventually got the message that he had lost the mandate of Heaven, and that he had to go. His dismissal was brutal as it was swift, but it came as a relief to most PNM supporters, some of whom felt he should also have given up his seat and also apologised to all the people whose livelihoods and welfare he sacrificed on the altar of his own ambition.
It may however be that having Mr Manning in Parliament as the designated scapegoat may relieve the political pressure on Mr Rowley who would not have to bear the brunt alone for all the ills and policy errors of the previous government.
One assumes that Mr Manning will attract a great deal of the opposition’s fire from both inside and outside the Parliament which might make it somewhat easier for Mr Rowley to do the job he has to do as the new Opposition Leader. One does not however know how Mr Manning will deal with all the muck that would be raked up and thrown at him by the new government, but then, he brought the outhouse down on his own head.
And what of Mr Imbert who also personified the arrogance of which the party was accused? Party members were relieved that Mr Imbert chose not to pursue his ‘ambition’ to become leader of the parliamentary opposition and that he agreed to support Mr Rowley in the ‘interest of peace’. His advisers must also have told him that he did not stand a ghost of a chance if he were to challenge Mr Rowley for the political leadership of the party. Polling data have consistently shown that Mr Imbert has little or no popular support in the PNM. Many in fact regret that he did not lose his seat.
The Prime Minister’s decision to hold the Local Government Elections on July 26 poses additional problems for Mr Rowley and the PNM. Mr Rowley has put a brave face on his dilemma, warning the national community that the PNM is no pushover. ‘The PNM is not an election party . It is a deeply rooted organisation that lost an election. Our roots are very deep and we are very strong.
We are in a position to give a good account of ourselves in a local election, and all plans are being put in place to do just that.’ It was a brave statement, but there is no concealing the fact that the party will be seriously tested in the next few weeks.
The party is demoralised as a result of the May 24 election, and one assumes it is also short of funds. The new leadership is no doubt hoping that apostates would return to help the party in its time of dire need as has occurred before. The problem is that the period between May 24 and July 26 is too brief and Kamla’s honeymoon may have run its course.
In retrospect, it was that Mr Rowley campaigned on behalf of the party during the last elections. Had he not done so, as some, in their fear of a return of Mr Manning felt he ought not to have done, he would have had a much more difficult time rallying the party. Now he can legitimately tell party members that the ship is afloat once more under new captaincy.
The new commander’s task is twofold; one is the short run problem of reattracting to the party’s base those who switched to COP because of their allergic reaction to Patrick Manning. It is not an option which many want to embrace at the present time. The second task is to radically restructure and rebrand the party in such as way as to make it relevant not only to its base, but equally important, to the many who are claiming that the party is no longer the natural party of government, but a ‘sub culture’ which only appeals to the its tribal totems. To survive, one needs roots. To grow, flourish, and provide shade, one needs to encourage branch growth. Without such growth, one will no longer be able to say, as Mr Manning loved to: ‘great is the PNM, and it shall prevail’. It would be a sad day for Mr Manning if in time he is not only accused of effecting a coup against his own government, but also against the once mighty PNM as well. Some are already saying that the outcome of the May Day election symbolises the reality that thePNM\Williams’ era has run its course, and that it needs to be replaced by an alternative that is more consensual and inclusive.
-To be concluded