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PNM still stale

By Ralph Maraj

Following politics in this country today is like eating stale food. It makes one nauseous. There is nothing fresh on the plate. So that in spite of being the worst administration ever, the recent MFO poll shows that the People's Partnership could still survive a general election battle now. There is no attractive, persuasive alternative. The staleness is everywhere.

There is no commitment to change. For both major parties, the status quo serves. Mouth multiracialism but remain fundamentally tribal with the drums and tassa of race in muted throbbing within; and when you need to herd the tribe, come blaring like Hilton Sandy, stirring fear of a "Calcutta'' invasion; and when there is a huge protest march against the government, ask triumphantly, like a cabinet minister, "where the Indians", knowing you had succeeded in corralling them into silence.

The PNM deserves particular chastisement for the political stagnation. It missed two significant chances of renewal from the wreckage of 2010, and even after revolutionary constitutional changes, the party remains stale. In June last year, I advised that any attempt to modernise the PNM must involve, not only its membership, but the entire nation. I argued that this party, our oldest, had introduced party politics to this country, led the nation to Independence and governed Trinidad and Tobago continuously for the first 30 years of self-government, leading the country's emergence from the backwardness of colonialism. It was therefore public property more than any other and therefore it was imperative that the citizenry be involved in its reconstruction. But the new leadership, with old arrogance, showed absolutely no appreciation of the historical context. They were blind to the larger picture. They kept the discussion within the confines of an intellectually moribund party, preserving the staleness as though it was sacred.

They didn't even recognise involving the population as good political strategy. Such denseness! I advised then, that the PNM should have had the country "buzzing with discussion, from living rooms to rum shops, in malls, offices and taxis, about proposed changes. Why keep this exciting process of renewal a party secret?" I asked further, "how will you excite the people about the party if you don't involve them in shaping its future? How will you encourage national ownership of the organisation if you alienate the population from the discussion?" and I warned that "a golden opportunity would have been lost to excite the population, increase interest and membership, encourage new talent, bring back those who left".

But "Doctah politics" resurfaced in its deafness. No national discussion emerged and the PNM moved to reform like in a funeral with only half the delegates at a convention when momentous changes were made to the Constitution, including one man one vote and reform that reduced the power of the political leader.

In "No more kings in PNM", I called that convention a revolution that had decapitated the maximum leader and could make the party "fresh and attractive, for now the environment for independent thought and intellectual freedom can surface" making the PNM more "spiritually prepared for variety in ideas, people and talent".

But I also warned constitutional changes alone would not suffice, that "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". I advised the leaders to "travel throughout the land, and with rousing speeches to party and country, preach the new gospel; summon the party's spirit; call for the membership to wake up to its responsibilities after decades of sleepwalking." No longer should everyone always be "choir children, singing from the same hymn sheet, praising God and the Captain, even when the ship is sinking. 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".

Virtually not a peep emanated from the PNM after that convention! History was unheralded. The windows were not thrown open for the winds of change. The leadership remained stuck in the mud and another golden opportunity slipped away. Why? Why did they fail to engage the nation in the first place and then why, after landmark constitutional changes, are they behaving as if nothing has happened? Are they not fully convinced? Is the PNM afraid of its freedom and a new future? Or is the party, so long in somnambulance, unable to think for itself, still totally dependent on its leader? PNMites better remember Animal Farm, when the pigs took over and destroyed the revolution. Or look at the UNC which, in spite of one man one vote for 20 years, is as stale as the PNM, "unaltered in character and composition, bereft of inner transformational power, still trapped in its 'plantation' base, unable by itself, to attract the 'port'".

Had the PNM leadership been truly committed to change; had it preached the new gospel far and wide; Sandy would never have dared engage in his ugliness; and if he did, he would have been immediately removed as a candidate. But of course no such thing happened. Platitudinous expressions of regret came only after the issue ignited; and most revealing, according to reports, the PNM's political leader, speaking after Sandy's racist remarks at the meeting, showered fulsome praise on the errant, as someone to "guide the youngsters'' of this country. No immediate and unambiguous reprimand from Rowley, leading many to think the "error'' was deliberate campaign strategy. The whole episode confirmed the PNM in its staleness.

• Ralph Maraj is a former

government minister.

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