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RESETTING ROWLEY AND THE PNM

By Selwyn Ryan

 The much anticipated intra-party People’s National Movement (PNM) elections have come and gone, leaving behind  much about which to converse in the weeks ahead. 

The outcomes  have confirmed that Rowley is now the PNM’s unequivocal political leader. His performance has unequivocally silenced the claims of those who had clandestinely and in some cases even openly contested his leadership. In that sense, the election achieved its central purpose, viz, to determine once and for all who was the captain of the refitted PNM political ship. 

As he himself declared in his carefully crafted post election speech, “I stand before you as a political leader who has gotten more votes than any other at any  time with respect to being elected to office. 

A lot of things are now behind us. The issue of who should lead the PNM is no longer in question; It is no longer important  who is waiting in the wings to launch a challenge; it is no longer about who could raise more money, or has a good record. 

“That is now behind us. We can now focus with laser-like accuracy on the assignment ahead, and that is to win the general elections.” These  comments tell us a great deal about what was taking place inside the PNM since Dr Rowley was elected political leader of the party and Leader of the Opposition in the wake of Mr Manning’s electoral defeat. 

The party was split on the basis of personality, gender, political ambition, hubris, as well as on whether one was a member of Manning’s prayer group or southern-based  cabal. There were other lines of cleavage . Penny was part of this attempt at game changing. 

She opted to bell the cat for the dissidents. The elections were thus  less about policy and more about settling the question of authoritative leadership, the nature of the election process, the use of the balisier tie, or the tone of Dr Rowley’s skin which flared briefly during the election campaign. These issues were however parts of the armoury of battle. 

The address and other unspecific comments about Penny’s future role in the party, was an olive branch offered to the “vanquished”, and one waits to see whether the initiative would be grasped or churlishly spurned. Some sore losers might take the position that the mandate was equivocal. It might be argued that the list was flawed and that this  interfered with the integrity of the election. Some might also choose to argue that the turnout was not as expected and that was evidence that Rowley had weak or divided support.

There are however explanations for all these developments. For example, the expectations about turnout support might  have been too high. Voting in a single party elections in distant locations could be problematic for some voters and this could  have had an impact on turnout. Many PNM members live far away from ballot boxes and getting to them would have involved expenses of money,  energy, and much else in an election for which much was not at stake, given the fact that Rowley’s victory was predictable. The effective list should  probably have been no more than 70,000.

Penny herself contributed to the low turnout. She was never able to bring out the support which some  assumed she had or was promised. She was misled into believing that she had a crossover block of Indian floating voters. 

Her strategy backfired. The results show that this  crossover  “ghost”  really does not exist. Penny got less than ten votes in each of the Indo heartland constituencies. The anticipated “Trojan horse” factor did not appear to have been a significant factor despite “Team Penny’s” attempts to make it so. The party dealt effectively with the opportunistic element which tried to register en bloc. Penny  also squandered  a great deal of support because she seemed willing to  allow “outsiders” to join  the party at a time   when the conjuncture seemed to call for closing of ranks. 

In sum, many angrily regarded Penny as the quintessential quisling who collaborates with the enemy when what is needed is loyalty.

Following the election, Kamla  taunted Rowley’s claim that the results showed that the PNM was “ready”.

She called Rowley the “17 per cent man” which was not correct, and that  figure was given before the votes  from all constituencies had all been counted. It was good politics but bad statistics.  Kamla nevertheless saw a UNC victory in the PNM tea leaves. As she chortled, “Yesterday tells me that the PP was  assured of victory. While 82,000 were expected to vote, they did not vote for Rowley’s PNM. His own party rejected him.”

 According to the PNM data, 81,000 were eligible to vote. Rowley secured 18,070 or approximately 22 per cent of those eligible voters. Beckles-Robinson received a derisive 1,314 votes and her supporters were visibly ashamed. Other more recent PNM reports claim that Rowley received 25 per cent of the voter turnout and that he received as many as 93 per cent of the votes cast.

If we compare Kamla’s figures when she defeated Panday in January 2010, we will see that the lists are not exactly comparable. The UNC’s  list consisted of only 35,000 voters. Kamla herself got about 13,932 of them. 

The PNM’s calculation is that she got 15 per cent of the UNC votes cast. The two lists were however not compiled in the same way. Both leaders however  did well given  all the circumstances. Though they were intra party elections, they were of national significance. They were both of “game-changing” significance. The controversies about the lists indicates that there is clearly need to standardise membership if we are to introduce public funding of party expenses.

In respect to Penny herself, she has to be congratulated for staying the course when others were urging her to quit.  She was no match for Rowley, who in my view is the most outstanding political leader in the English-speaking Caribbean, someone on whom much depends in respect of governance reform. 

Penny was an agent of God and of History. Her challenge helped to bring out the best in Rowley’s development as the leader of a mass party, skills which are desperately needed in Trinidad and Tobago at the present time.

She was punished for her hubris, her persistence in the face of patent futility, but in the process, she gave life to the election and to the PNM .

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