Tuesday, January 23, 2018

No more kings in PNM

The People's National Movement must be congratulated on its recent changes including, one man one vote; removal of the political leader's veto in choosing candidates; reduction in term limits for the political leader and others; and full autonomy for the party's Tobago Council, now with its own political leader and executive. These are profound developments. It means the maximum leader is dead in the PNM. No longer will he "bestride the narrow world like a colossus''. No more kings here! This is revolution!

The entire leadership must be commended. But Keith Rowley deserves special recognition. He could have been persuaded by those who argue that change to one man one vote would transform the very nature of the party; make it vulnerable to invasion and capture; and alienate those who sustained it through thick and thin for the past 50 years. All nonsense! A revitalised PNM is its own protection; the party badly needs an infusion of new blood and ideas; and it must become attractive beyond its dwindling base. Rowley must be congratulated for holding his ground against backwardness. He has made history by being the first PNM leader to deliberately reduce his power, to reject kingship in the party. He did it for the good of the PNM, a rare act of selflessness in our politics.

These changes can make the PNM fresh and attractive. They deepen its democracy. No more kings! The party is now a republic! Its members have the power! Now the good of party and country must be paramount; not the wishes of the "Chief'', an appellation redolent with the tribalism we must reject. Now the environment for independent thought and intellectual freedom can surface within the PNM; and if this takes root, the party would become more spiritually prepared for variety in ideas, people and talent. This is the way forward. Balisier House must now throw open its windows for the winds of change.

But be warned. Constitutional amendments by themselves will not suffice. Old habits die hard. Learn from the UNC experience. That party instituted one man one vote 20 years ago, but only managed to change a leader many years later after he had become a clear political liability. It did not alter the character and composition of the party.

Today, bereft of inner transformational power, the UNC remains trapped in its "plantation'' base, needing alliances to enter the "port'' if it is to receive consideration by that independent, increasing and influential minority in our electorate. The PNM is virtually in the same boat. It can't even hold a meeting in "the plantation'' without herding in urban supporters to avoid embarrassment. Heavens, these days should be long gone!

No political party worthy of the name, should be so "cabin, cribbed and confined''. It is damning testimony of the failure of leadership in our two oldest parties, that after over 50 years, in and out of government, haranguing, posturing, promising, you are still in the same spot, marking time, full of hot air but going nowhere and taking the country with you. And you talk of "vision'' and "rising'' and other hollowness every five years.

This stagnation of the UNC, after 20 years of one man one vote can easily be replicated in the PNM and murder its present possibilities. Therefore the leadership must ensure that the spirit and significance of these changes permeate the entire body of the party. All must understand this is cultural, not cosmetic. The PNM must rise from intellectual inertia and expand its consciousness to be the big tent, its goal at inception when idealism was strong. So must the UNC. Each must know that cultures eventually disappear that remain resistant to influx, infusion, interchange and intermingling. Even in conquest is the conqueror altered by the conquered. Today both parties are inwardly enfeebled by the intellectual incestuousness of tribal politics. By themselves in the ring, they would be like two has-beens. The fight will not be worth the voting.

So the PNM must soulfully embrace its changes. The leaders must now travel throughout the land, and with rousing speeches to party and country, preach the new gospel; celebrate the historic development; summon the party's spirit; call for the membership to wake up to their responsibilities after decades of sleepwalking, led by their political leader to his own heaven, hell, or somewhere in between.

Persuade the nation a new dawn is here; that the PNM is discarding the old culture of stultification disguised as "discipline''; "loyalty'' that demands uniformity and kills creativity; and insecurity that sees treachery in every dissenting voice or difference of opinion. No longer must everyone always be choir children, singing from the same hymn sheet, praising God and the captain, even when the ship is sinking. Now must the soul of the PNM soar, liberated from being in lockstep with the limited mind of just one individual. Members must now find their voice and debate range at all levels of the party.

Now must the many dead constituency executives and party groups come to life; and the General Council, the second most powerful arm of the party, be an open intellectual space for ideas not mechanics, substance not sycophancy, where direction is determined not by one man's intuitions, preferences or messianic impulses, but by vigorous and fearless analysis that would establish a new tradition in the party, inspiring the future.

Now all cultish characteristics must go. Now open the gates of Balisier House for many thousands of all creeds and colours, races and roots, longing for the promised land, too long delayed in Trinidad and Tobago. Now must the country see a party reborn. No more kings in the PNM! The people reign!

Ralph Maraj is a former

government minister.