T&T’s grand old party faces new challenges
So far from settling things down, if only for a breather, the Chaguanas West by-election has instead stirred the political pot. Local government elections, legally due by October, have now come sharply into focus, and a campaign season, “silly” or not, is set for an extended run.
Newcomer formations, such as the MSJ and the ILP, have hit the road. The MSJ claims to have already screened candidates for regional and borough corporations. Expending shoe leather in low-cost “walkabouts”, it will be seeking to bring its leaders and candidates face to face with ordinary electors.
It’s thus highly unwelcome news that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar may be even thinking of postponing the local polls to a date presumably more convenient for the UNC and the People’s Partnership. The momentum, set on a roll by the THA and then by the Chaguanas West polls, bodes less than well for the ruling coalition.
It is clear, too, that T&T’s grand old party, the PNM, can hardly remain untouched by the impulses marking the prevailing political mood. Though a negligible factor in the Chaguanas West contest, the PNM looks forward to the opportunity to flex its electoral muscles in local contests, especially in stronghold areas, around Trinidad.
It turns out, however, the venerable PNM may not be without internal disquiets of its own. While ostensibly readying itself for the local elections, the PNM appears beset by concerns, connected with a longer-term horizon, about its leadership and direction.
Senator Pennelope Beckles, while declaring her support for political leader Keith Rowley, has given voice to a widely disquieting observation about the party’s leadership. “I don’t think,” she said with engaging candour, “the plans of what we would do if we get into government are sufficiently known by the population.”
Ms Beckles assured that work has quietly been proceeding toward clarifying vision and policy for a future PNM government. Too quietly, however, for her satisfaction, and also for a public entitled to discern some respectable alternative to the ruling administration.
Cast in the role of opposition, the Rowley-led PNM is better known for its prowess in efforts, however justifiable, to frustrate and to embarrass the ruling coalition. Three years after its disastrous general election showing, the PNM must now adjust its focus to include forces such as the MSJ and the ILP which were once part of a single partnership juggernaut.
Senator Beckles’ concern, however, is that the party may be in danger of being characterised as “opposing merely for the sake of opposing”. She rightly considers the public is entitled to know more about PNM plans for government. Only so, indeed, can the public be reassured that opposition noise-making is not coming from empty political vessels.