Unravelling of a nationalist party

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 19, 2022


Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeWhen the People’s National Movement started its mission in 1956, its primary responsibility was to uplift all members of the society, particularly the underclass, and to ensure that each party member was treated fairly. It also held out the promise that each member could rise to the highest levels of the party.

Although the founding members understood that genuine democracy implies one-man-one-vote, they also recognised that equity (the quality of being fair and impartial) should be the base of the party’s mission rather than the ubiquitous notion of formal equality. They believed that the promulgation of formal freedoms is an empty gesture if the necessary political structures were not in place to achieve them.

Therefore, the party instituted a delegate system in which every party group sent a delegate to the annual convention to vote for the party officers. Such a procedure ensured that a poor party member from La Brea or Las Lomas had the same chance to be a part of the party’s leadership as the richest aspirant from Port of Spain or San Fernando.

The party reforms of 2013, particularly Article 20, changed that original postulate when it gave every member the right to vote at all levels of the movement without putting in place a structure that would ensure that a woman from Las Lomas could compete or even emerge victorious in these elections.

Such reforms gave advantages to some party members over others. It makes the more affluent and better positioned members more likely to succeed than the less-fortunate members. It’s almost as though the party enshrined the commandment on George Orwell’s Animal Farm into its constitution — “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” — when it adopted Article 20.

Two Sundays ago, the party held its annual convention. It declared that 14,000 people attended the convention. While the membership of the party grew from 81,000 members in 2014 to 105,000 in 2022, less than nine per cent of the party members voted during the three days allocated for voting. Three thousand people voted on the first day; 5,000 on the second day; while 800 people voted on the last day of the convention.

Overall, Dr Keith Rowley’s vote declined from 18,000 in 2014 to 8,424 in 2022, although it is estimated that the “Leaders in Service” Team spent over $5 million in their election campaign. Rowley received 171 votes from his Diego Martin West constituents. He received the most votes from San Fernando East (557) and the least from the Diego Martin East constituency (53). No political leader should be pleased with this showing but, then again, the prime minister’s party was defeated in his boyhood home, Mason Hall, Tobago, at the THA elections.

A similar lack of confidence was shown in the leadership abilities for Stuart Young, the political leader’s protégé, who was elected chairman of the party, and is the presumptive forerunner to take over the party when Rowley retires. He received a total of 8,389 votes: 158 votes from his constituency members (two more than Rowley) and 47 votes from Diego Martin North East, Colm Imbert’s constituency. His most votes came from La Horquetta/Talparo (396) and the least (zero votes) from Tabaquite.

In August 2018 at a political meeting in Point Fortin (and on other occasions), Rowley said every leader must have a Gary Sobers on this team, meaning an all-rounder who could fill any gaps (meaning tasks) that he might have been unable to handle. He is also reported to have said that anyone who wished to become the leader of this country needed to know about the energy sector. He then placed Young in a position to get as much exposure to the energy industry as possible. First, he appointed him as a minister within the Prime Minister’s office, then the minister of National Security, and at present Minister of Energy. Since then, Young has been a part of most of the energy missions in which the prime minister has been involved.

Does this give an undue advantage to Young in any fight for the leadership position?

Colm is one of the most resourceful members of the Cabinet. He was the chairman of the party for the past four years. However, he was neither consulted nor included in the team that “Leaders In Service” named. He was shown a list in which Young was proposed as the chairman. I wonder if this slight had anything to do with the paucity of votes that Rowley and Young received from Imbert’s constituents?

The PM must be careful about imposing Young or any member of the moneyed class on the party, especially when the party’s base consists mostly of black people. Of the 220,000 votes the PNM received in the last election,190,000 came from black people. No party leader should take them for granted.

When the PNM came into conflict with the West Indian Federal Government, Dr Williams asserted: “What appeared to superficial observers as a conflict of personalities in the inglorious career of the Federation stemmed in reality from a conflict between a powerful nationalist idea with roots deep in a people who were the most cultivated and politically conscious in the area.” (History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago)

That miscalculation led in part to PNM’s decision to leave the West Indian Federation.

Rowley and the PNM’s hierarchy should not underestimate the intelligence of its ordinary members who, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, declaimed: “Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,/ Onward through life [they] go; …Thus at the flaming forge of life/ Our fortunes must be wrought;/ Thus on its sounding anvil shaped/ Each burning deed and thought.”

Longfellow was one of Dr Williams’s favourite poets.

2 thoughts on “Unravelling of a nationalist party”

  1. The PNM have the winning formula. They will not lose any election going ahead. Their strategy is simply and well tested. Under Dr. Rowley we have seen the “progressive” nature of the PNM as an albatross hanging proudly around the neck of black people. Under the theme “we like it so”. What the PNM has done is created a generation of non-performers and loyal lackeys whose claim to fame is to carry a coffin around election time (what is in there) and wave the balisier.

    The signature of progress within the PNM is to destroy everything that is progressive.
    (1) Name one project that can stir pride of nationhood in the last seven years, with more money spent than the UNC did in 5 years. (2) The national deficit with easy borrowing from China has spiralled out of control with a debt at $135 billion. Remember $3 billion US translated to over $21 billion TnT dollars.
    (3) Flooding, remains uncheck by a lack of Will to clear water courses. In 2018 flooding was the worst, in 2022 it just continued.
    (4) The nations roads are a testament to 4th world status. Nothing is being done to ease the pain.

    It was the PNM who shut down the railways system most people are not aware that Trinidad had a railway system. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxqQl9EdZsk They later spent $500 million in a feasibility study to bring rapid rail.

    It was the PNM who closed Caroni 1975 Limited. Their claim was that it was a drain on the treasury. Then they use the lands to build houses and give their supporters. Prime agricultural land now under concrete. There was no effort at diversification. When Caroni Green came on stream under the UNC bringing in $1 million in foreign exchange and hiring 75 people with the possibility of increase production they shut it down. They were exporting 1.5 million pounds of peppers.

    It was the PNM who shut down Petrotrin and created Heritage Petroleum, “ HERITAGE Petroleum Company, the wholly State-owned oil producer, declared an audited after-tax profit of $682.6 million for its financial year ended September 30, 2021, a decline of 33 per cent compared to the $1.01 billion the company earned in 2020”. $400 million loss… hmmm at a time when oil and gas is exceptionally high.

    Yes folks the PNM have the winning formula to stay in power for perpetuity. Fix the electoral boundaries. Hire the niece of a government minister to head the EBC. Then employ only balisier loyalist to run the elections. Talk done, who talk dead.

  2. “The PM must be careful about imposing Young or any member of the moneyed class on the party, especially when the party’s base consists mostly of black people”…..

    Young has been the PM go to everything minister. His family has made millions enjoying the perks that come with PNM ministers.
    His brother was made an instant millionaire. “ Meanwhile, the party said Young’s admission that the “vast majority” of Cabinet notes from which he has recused himself were in relation to NCB Global Finance, where his brother is CEO, “justifies the award of significant lucrative contracts totaling some $2.5 Billion.” Young recused himself an astounding 57 times. What if this was a UNC minister? The balisier brigade would have been out crying blood daily in the media, starting with Roget…

    The Young family has been embroiled in corruption, starting with his legal briefs “ STUART YOUNG was a Lawyer for MALCOLM JONES when FARIS AL RAWI discontinue this case and MILLIONS of Legal fees was payout”.

    The PNM family have been protecting Stuart and the billionaire club…

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