Wednesday, February 21, 2018

PNM struggles with mandate of change

Express editorial logo355

Mark Fraser

 Fitzgerald Hinds, former MP, former senator, former junior minister, and notorious motor mouth, has been announced as political leader Keith Rowley’s choice for Youth Officer in the PNM’s internal election. Inevitably, questions will arise about not only Mr Hinds’ youth, his role, his motivation and his purpose, but also about the political company that Dr Rowley keeps. 

Apparently front-running, the Rowley slate can expect rigorous scrutiny in the spirited competition set afoot by the PNM’s historic May 2014 internal election. It has taken nearly six decades for T&T’s first political party, proudly self-advertised as modern, democratic, educational, and nationally all-inclusive, to hold its first internal election on the basis of one man, one vote.

As the party put its best forward, so to speak, it is sobering to be reminded of the historical baggage that threatens to handicap its efforts to remain relevant. Dr Rowley and Mr Hinds appear to have both forsworn the once almost sacred obligation to wear the balisier tie.

Until the elevation of Dr Rowley, insistence on that item of neckwear both confirmed the power of tradition and served as a subtext inscription of male dominance. Lady vice chairman consequently marked the highest-level aspiration for any woman rising in the PNM ranks.

The 2014 internal election accordingly bids for epoch-making recognition in at least two respects. It marks the first leadership challenge by a woman, Pennelope Beckles-Robinson, missioned by fate defiantly to attempt to smash the glass ceiling of the lady vice chairman position she has held.  Additionally, this election will be run on the basis on one man, one vote, rather than, as before, by the delegate system.

It is Mr Hinds who serves to remind T&T of the challenges yet to be overcome in the process of moving the PNM from its traditional moorings in attitude and prompting. It was he who, in a statement that drew international attention, broadcast worry that Dr Rowley may be regarded, inside the party and out, as too dark-skinned for PNM or national tastes.  

Mr Hinds thereby invoked a throwback to the old “paper bag test” by which social and other acceptance was determined by shade of skin. So far from disassociating himself from such outdated “colourism”, Dr Rowley has embraced the author as a valued member of his team. 

In much the same way, the PNM THA kept faith with the candidate who was the source of the infamously expressed fears of a “Calcutta” takeover in Tobago following the January 2013 THA election. Dr Rowley may be further degenerating the pursuit of political campaigning if he were not only to refuse to denounce, but also actively to endorse  people who drag campaign rhetoric in the dust of discredit and disgrace.