When, on Sunday, it was finally over, the PNM’s internal election exercise left both the party and the country to make assessments of what had been achieved, and what not. In a lopsided contest, in the headline race for political leader, incumbent Keith Rowley rode a “landslide” to victory against challenger Pennelope Beckles-Robinson.
Appropriately, Dr Rowley congratulated all the candidates for participation in a campaign that had “energised” the party. The newly reconfirmed “captain” of the PNM ship is also entitled to large credit for his leadership in bringing the party into the 21st century with its first one-member, one-vote election in 58 years.
Shortly before the long-awaited polling day, Dr Rowley had found occasion to thank Ms Beckles-Robinson for making a contest of what could have been a colourless reaffirmation of the party status quo. Such sentiments were echoed on Sunday by Senator Faris Al-Rawi, party spokesman, who conceded the process would have been “stale” without the emergence of a rival team and candidates.
Dr Rowley eventually showed the graciousness of spirit to recognise in Ms Beckles-Robinson’s challenge a contribution that made for “a very good election campaign”. In such acknowledgement may lie recognition that it was both unnecessary and ill-advised to campaign on the basis of demonising Ms Beckles-Robinson and her team as traitors, or worse.
In understandably upbeat mood, Dr Rowley denies that any wounds have been sustained, such as would require “healing”. The Beckles-Robinson team should in turn be expected to roll with the punches that had landed over the months on the campaign trail.
Less easy to accept, however, is the likely, if unquantifiable, ill effects on the losing team of the malfunctioning of the PNM’s electoral machinery. Evidently, as Ms Beckles-Robinson concluded, the party is “not ready” for the demands of conducting internal polls on the one-member, one-vote basis.
Problems with verification of membership and equality of access to lists of eligible voters were among the shortcomings in arrangements that left the rivals to “Team Rowley” less than satisfied. On reflection, the party should beneficially have drawn upon expert assistance and advice from people with experience in running national elections.
Sunday’s turn-out, reported as 20-30 per cent, seems disappointing for the effort and energy expended to boost enthusiasm over the historic four-month campaign. The factors that affected would-be voters should be impartially explored.
Threats from the Beckles-Robinson camp to “exercise certain options”, on the ominous basis of “senior counsel” advice, even if not carried into effect, should warn that Sunday’s outcome may not go down universally well inside the party. Worse, outside the party, Sunday’s elections may be held up as evidence of failure by the self-advertised government-in-waiting, successfully and satisfactorily, to deliver a major project of its own.