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Penny’s Lament

By Selwyn Ryan

Penny recently wondered aloud why is it that the People’s National Movement (PNM) could not have a clean party election. I too have often wondered whether, on balance, the “one-person, one-vote” election was suitable for use in small face-to-face societies such as ours. The argument in favour of open elections is that they enhance party democracy by breaking up entrenched patriarchal oligarchies where they exist.

They  also  provide opportunities for the  civic involvement of the general citizenry. At worst, they help to lubricate a circulation of elites. 

The case against them is that they could be disproportionately expensive, notwithstanding the fact that the electorates might be smaller and theoretically less costly to reach. The perception is that the per capita costs may be more than it is in a general election. 

Another negative feature of these intramural  elections is that party members often find themselves denigrating persons with whom they have to work on the morrow following the election. As one candidate in a United National Congress (UNC) internal election (Carlos John) moaned, “I thought this was going to be an exercise in democracy, but it has gone down a different road. The campaign has been characterised by obscenity, gutter politics, barbarity and a lot of hanging of dirty linen in public. Yesterday, I was their colleague;  today, I am their friend; the sharks smile with me  in the day and stab me in the back by night. ‘Goonda’ politics and one-man one-vote elections do not sit well together. There has to be a better way to elect our leaders and make them accountable. We need to find a compromise formula that combines the democracy associated with open elections and the discipline of the closed delegate model.” Penny’s lament suggests that Carlos may well have been right.

 Problems inevitably  arise if the election pits challengers against  incumbents, especially if the latter feel that they were founders of the party or  have traditional usufructuary rights. Dissidents are advised to form their own party if they are unhappy with what obtains. Challengers thus  have to be very careful about what they allege, accuse or say, especially if there are allegations about corruption, inaptitude, mismanagement, abuse or some other improper behaviour. The election may thus widen latent cracks in the organisation and help to destabilise the party, perhaps fatally. What thus began as a little “family cuss out” or a bit of “bois pelting” may turn out to be a “game changer and a source of grief or anger”. We recall the way in which Panday’ reacted to dissidents whom he threatened to dispatch to a cemetery. Dissidents were seen as being “neemakharams, disloyal ingrates”.

The  May 18 election provides many examples of what is being asserted here.   In the PNM case, the challenger found herself at a disadvantage since the incumbent chose to run on his record, and accuses her of being a non-performer, someone who has not left any visible footprint on the political landscape. Almost all to whom I have spoken about Penny’s political record agree that she is a charming person, a “Miss Amity if you wish”, but few if any believe that she has what it takes to lead the PNM or play the rough roles that politics in Trinidad and Tobago now involves. It is perhaps worth noting that Ms Beckles  currently has no status as a parliamentarian.

She is not a member of either the House of Representatives or the Senate and cannot therefore be Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

Who will resign to give her a seat in Parliament? Patrick Manning?  

A controversial assertion that sours the debate is that Rowley has a bit too much “melanin”  in his veins and would not be  acceptable  to an important mixed segment of the Trinidad electorate. This assertion went viral when Fitzgerald Hinds said that he had overheard some important businessmen and even party members repeating the comment. I too had heard such comment. 

Rowley himself made no open comment on the matter, his silence leading  some to say that he was playing the race card, it was said. He was forcing people to vote for him lest it be said that they subscribed to the view about Rowley’s unsuitability.  Jack Warner may have spoken for some when he warned Indians in an article (in Sunshine) to “think twice before casting their vote for Rowley”.

Africans of brown colour and lighter hue should be very wary of voting for Rowley given his lack of condemnation of Hinds’ statement, which again sought to divide us as a people.

In my view, Hinds was not playing the race card when they sounded the tocsin. There are important voices which  whisper such comments.

Some financiers who were backing Penny in fact felt that  their investment would yield better returns if Penny was the PNM candidate. Their argument was that she would attract a more diverse ethnic coalition. It is also alleged that they were of the view that they would find it easier to control or influence a Beckles-led government than one led by Rowley who likes to think of himself as being  his own man and less easy to manipulate. Incidentally, Ms Beckles was not the group’s first choice. Some preferred Mr Robert Riley whose  claim to fame was that he was formerly chairman of bpTT, a leading company in the energy sector. That initiative did not fly.

Riley has no base in the PNM.

Incidentally, the financing issue is still alive. Penny has been accused of accepting campaign funds from Jack Warner.  

Warner allegedly regards her as a promising investment in the same way in which he sought to use Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar. 

When asked to confirm a report that he funded her, Warner reportedly replied  that he would neither say “yea or nay”, which was taken by most people to mean “yea”. PNMites were not happy about that. It is also believed that Beckles is receiving  advice and tactical support from the UNC, including help in respect of  rigging  the election. It is said that they attempted to register three thousand members.

The plan was reportedly thwarted.   

Many accuse Beckles of being a Quisling who was not loyal to the party, someone who was not to be trusted. These are serious charges which depend on the political colour of who is determining their truth or falsehood.

To be concluded

 
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