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Transforming the PNM

With the transformation of its constitution, the People's National Movement (PNM) has now instituted some of the fundamental changes which are needed if the party is to restore its electoral viability.

Last Sunday at a special convention, party members made several key changes to the organisation's internal election system. The party will now have just one post of youth officer instead of having male and female representatives. The term for major party offices — general secretary, chairman, and political leader — has been reduced from five to four years. Tobago now has more independence from the Trinidad branch of the PNM. The political leader would now be elected by instant run-off voting (IRV) and, most importantly, the delegate system for electing the political leader has been changed to a one-person one-vote system.

What is notable about most of these changes is that they reduce the power of the political leader and other officers. By changing the term limit for key offices, PNM members now have more opportunities to remove those individuals whom they perceive as not performing satisfactorily. This may prove quite significant when the PNM is in office, since even the political leader may find his position as prime minister challenged by the party he leads.

In similar fashion, the switch to an instant run-off system may help ensure that the political leader is the person most favoured by party members. In IRV, voters rank the candidates in order of preference instead of voting for a single candidate. IRV has the effect of avoiding split votes between more than two candidates, which can sometimes lead to a victorious candidate who is not preferred by the majority of voters.

But it is the change from a delegate system to one-person-one-vote that should help ensure greater democracy in the party's internal procedures (although, as demonstrated by the rival UNC, this is no guarantee of less internal wrangling). Political scientists who have applied game theory to politics have demonstrated that, in any organisation where a leader depends on only a few persons to stay in power, corruption is virtually inevitable. A delegate system means that, in effect, the political leader has only to gain the approval of just over half the delegations, instead of over half of the membership. That kind of nepotism and curry favour then carries over all too easily into governance.

In spearheading these changes, Dr Keith Rowley has now put his stamp as political leader on the PNM. Only time will tell how the new system will change the organisational culture of that party, but the intended goals bode well for the party's transformation into an organisation better prepared for 21st century governance of Trinidad and Tobago.

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