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PEEPING INSIDE THE PNM

By Selwyn Ryan

 The return of Patrick Manning to the parliamentary benches has provoked  controversy about his motives for doing so.  Was it a “routine” event which is in keeping with his earlier commitment to retire at the end of the current parliamentary term, or is there a hidden agenda lurking somewhere?  Mr Manning’s return was welcomed by  well-wishers and those who have “forgiven him his trespasses”?  Some felt that his return was long overdue.  Others felt he ought to have resigned when it became evident that he was unlikely to regain his pristine health. 

Those who express such views do not understand the minds of those who regard politics as a vocation. Like many others who are deeply religious, Mr Manning believes  that “God” has a plan for him, and that, like Rodger Samuel,  would advise him what to do and when. Recall that Mr Manning was wont to say that he is a “child of God” and that God has a plan for him. 

 There are however secularists or agnostics who believe that Mr Manning still regards himself as a political “kingmaker”, and that his ultimate aim is to mobilise dissenting elements in the party and business community whose end game is to defeat Dr Rowley in the upcoming intra-party election. There is indeed a great deal of anger among many PNMites who fear that Mr Manning is up to no good and that the timing of his return is not unrelated to a strategic plan aimed at derailing the Rowley  train which is on its away to the station after having been painstakingly refitted and repaired.   Ill or not, blessed or not, Mr Manning is a politician with much guile and a long memory.  It may well be that he blames Rowley and his friends in the  construction industry for the reversals and defeats which he suffered, and that he regards what he is now doing not as “show time”, but as “pay back time”. 

 It may even be that Mr Manning remembers only too well the circumstances that surrounded the challenges mounted by Dr Rowley in 1996 and that what we are likely to witness in the weeks ahead is round two of the epic Manning/Rowley battle in which Mr Manning may now have a proxy in the person of former bpTT chairman, Robert Riley, whom he had sought to recruit. My own view is that Mr Riley should be wooed to the PNM as Mr Howai was to the Partnership. He is a technocrat, and the Lord knows we need more of them in our administrations.

As of now, however, I see no one who is a better mix of both the technocrat and the politician than Dr Rowley. Penny may be trying to ride the gender steed, but now is not the time to experiment with any candidate on the ground that PNM male leaders should be brought down to make room for “queen Penny”.

 Mr Rowley has recently made a number of pledges in his leadership campaign. Among them is that he would deal firmly with any minister who proves to be corrupt or who is racially partisan. Other leaders have made similar promises in vain. 

Over the next few weeks, we will examine the Rowley record. We begin with his performance in 1996 when he fought Patrick Manning for the leadership of the PNM.  The defeat of the PNM in the 1995 general elections gave rise to bitter controversy about the role of Patrick Manning as Political Leader of the PNM. The party was split down the middle on the question as to whether he should resign immediately.There was also controversy as to who made the fatal decision to call the elections 17 months before they were due. 

Manning was told by his critics that he lacked the skills to take the party into the 21st century and that his blunders were too grave and two numerous. Among the blunders referred to was his quixotic claim made in a national address, that he was the “father of the nation”, or at least the “father of the PNM”, both of which were deemed insulting to the memory of Dr Eric Williams. For many, this claim suggested that Manning had gone over the top.

During the campaign, Manning stressed the importance of loyalty to the elected leader, but in Rowley’s view, loyalty to the leader ought not to be confused with party democracy.  

The matter also transcended personality. His declared aim was to rebuild the party by making it more inclusive and responsive to the party membership and the “grassroots” in the national community. To quote Rowley, “The time for a maximum leader in the PNM has long passed. If we cannot oppose a party leader now, then we may as well say we shouldn’t oppose the Prime Minister in anything either. In this era, no leader can afford to take the stand that they are beyond criticism; they would be out of touch with reality. Any enlightened leader should be open to the views of members; they must adopt a stance in which they can be approached without fear of intolerance.”

We will see how the good doctor performs in this regard.  There were those who argued that it was counter productive for the party to have an open election to choose its leader. Doing so, they argued, would cause the party to splinter into rival factions. Interestingly, Rowley was among those who disagreed. He told those who felt that way that “a proper modern party needs to elect its leader. It is only because of the PNM’s strange development why this had not happened”.

 Williams was leader for life, ANR Robinson, at one time Williams’s deputy, had walked out of the party in protest, and Chambers and Manning became leaders courtesy of the presidential discretion. in 1981 and 1987 after Williams’ death.  

Manning  would later reveal that he regarded the frontal challenge to his leadership as the “darkest night of his whole life”.

“I felt betrayed a long time ago—not just by one, but by many.”

He  declined to identify them. He also indicated that he had learnt a great deal from his experience. 

“I am today a wiser man even if a slightly sadder one.”

The Convention was attended by a great deal of abuse directed towards Rowley. There was also a great deal of hymn singing, bell ringing and dancing to celebrate Manning’s candidacy. Manning did not leave the outcome to chance.

Using stealth and campaign savvy, Manning and his slate won the election comprehensively.

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