Friday, February 23, 2018

PNM’s high hopes

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Mark Fraser

 T&T’s grand old party, the PNM, on its 58th anniversary last weekend, took off on a homestretch gallop toward the finish line of the next general elections. Political Leader Keith Rowley and chairman Franklin Khan both advertised the readiness of the PNM for an extended campaign and the fitness to command an administration entrusted with a new electoral mandate.

As the official opposition party makes ready to succeed the incumbent in peaceful and constitutional process, T&T may accordingly be consoled by signs of vigour and vitality marking its two-party system. After a succession of electoral contests decided by relatively narrow margins, the PNM, in office for most of a decade, was comprehensively routed in 2010 by a People’s Partnership assembled short weeks before.

That outcome was taken, even by the PNM, as a measure of the disaffection, reaching disgust, felt by the electorate toward the Patrick Manning administration. 

By January 2014, there is much sobering cause to rethink electoral decisions taken 45 months before.  Dr Rowley and Mr Khan are aiming to ride the crest of a revisionist impulse evincing dissatisfaction, even despair, over the experience under the People’s Partnership administration, and prompting a fresh look at today’s offerings by the PNM.

The PNM leaders are saying that enough change has come over the party to induce T&T to look with fresh eyes even upon figures as old and familiar as Dr Rowley and Mr Khan. “Has the PNM changed? I say yes,” Dr Rowley affirmed. At the next contest, he assured, his party will be chosen by voters as “the best alternative”, but not just “based on the failures of others”.

It is indisputable, however, that the Rowley-led PNM has spent more time denouncing the Partnership’s failures than on emphasising its own attributes as a new and improved alternative. One aspect of change now claimed by Mr Khan for the traditionally Afro-based party is that its “door is open even wider than before to every creed and race”.

Citing names such as Ibrahim and Mohammed among PNM founders, Mr Khan argued the party had always been open to “East Indians”. Political historian Selwyn Ryan, however, last week noted about PNM members that “few have been Hindus”. Dr Ryan suggested that Dr Rowley’s own image “as a black nationalist” may work against changing the party’s demographic profile.

From its known proposals for a new dispensation in government, the extent to which a Rowley administration will differ from what is recalled of the Manning regime is frequently unclear. Promoting his “Vision 2030”, the Opposition Leader appeared to be only updating Mr Manning’s signature Vision 2020. This  impression is confirmed by his recommitment to the Manning-era Rapid Rail mega project.

From another leading PNM voice has been heard more apparent nostalgia for Manning administration security actions and ideas. In the House last week, PNM Senator Faris Al Rawi looked back in longing at the last administration’s “crime plan” which he argues was in 2010 on the verge of having the desired effects. Under a new PNM government, then, T&T could expect to revisit the old crime-fighting order comprising SAUTT, the blimps, and maybe even the OPVs.

Hardly any spectacular, or any, success was recorded in the name of the Manning PNM crime plan, but today’s party flag bearers compare it favourably with the relative Partnership planlessness. “We jumped from a warm frying pan into an expensive hellfire,” says Dr Rowley, signalling as always more distaste for the present dispensation than offering a future of more believable improvements.