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Rowley’s leadership marks old PNM style

Because Opposition Leader Keith Rowley’s political stocks have been rising, much attention has been claimed for his picks and his drops on his PNM Senate team. After three election victories under his political leadership, eyes inevitably turned to what he would next do.  

Eyebrows raised high last week as Dr Rowley announced choices for half of his constitutionally allocated six Senate seats. A trace of irritability showed in his response to the scrutiny, with predictable political malice aforethought by rival parties, but with legitimate curiosity by non-partisan commentators.  

Noting that the ruling People’s Partnership had done far more Senate reshuffles, Dr Rowley said of his own: “When we make changes we are held to a higher standard.” 

A “higher standard” appropriately applies to decisions by Dr Rowley, who has ceaselessly berated what he sees as the opposite measure by which the ruling Partnership operates. Meeting that “higher standard” must, however, imply displaying more transparency and more candour.   

From Dr Rowley’s stated reasons for his removal of Pennelope Beckles-Robinson, however, candour and transparency have been grievously lacking. As leader of Opposition in the Upper House, Ms Beckles-Robinson had enjoyed a standing matched by her national recognition as the leading female figure in the PNM. 

Dr Rowley cited her position as PNM lady vice-chairman, noting: “One can hardly get higher in the PNM than that”. In fact, the “lady” is entitled to aspire to even higher. Ms Beckles-Robinson had long left open the possibility of contesting against Dr Rowley for the PNM political leadership. This reflects her understanding that that particular vice chairmanship need not, today, be regarded as a glass ceiling against the ascendancy ambitions of the “lady” who occupies it.

Dr Rowley’s summary dismissal sends a message that the figure chosen by the PNM as its leading lady may still not qualify, in the eyes of the political leader, to be a senator in the party’s name. Justifiably, Dr Rowley claims credit for leading in the PNM the “significant change… accomplished by our one-man, one-vote position”. 

What is still to change, however, is the style of political leadership exemplified in a trend unbroken since Eric Williams’ famous “let no damn dog bark’’ statement. 

That was then, in Williams’ heyday. But this is now, an era encouraging little hope of silencing political watchdogs, sounding alarms about a leadership that presumes itself unanswerable to anyone inside or outside the PNM. Dr Rowley’s case against Ms Beckles-Robinson has to consist of more than the unbecoming whispering campaigns questioning her party loyalties.

It is time for Mr Rowley to state clearly why Ms Beckles-Robinson’s appointment was revoked. 

It is Penny today; tomorrow it could be anyone, of greater or lesser political currency, daring to raise his or her head or voice against all-powerful leader Rowley.

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