The clash between two “prevailing” visions of the People’s National Movement (PNM) has caught the attention of the wider society, aware as it does that it is not merely an internal matter but one that the could have political implications for us all.
One of the peculiarities of Ms Beckles-Robinson’s campaign is that although she has been in the PNM for over two decades, not much is known about what she stands for.
We are told that she would take note of all the “demographics” involved, be consensual in her approach to decision-making and less socially divisive in terms of whom she associates with. She believes that Dr Rowley is too belligerent and confrontational in the way he deals with party matters and that she would be less so. She repeatedly talks about the need for “participatory democracy”.
As she said, “We want a leadership that is not beholden to any caucus or clique; we want a leadership that listens to the membership; we want a leadership that can work with different groups and hear different ideas; and embrace different perspectives in the interests of fulfilling our grand vision of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago. The people deserve a new leader that offers a different leadership which could attract the ‘middle ground’.”
In another comment, she tells us that Trinidad and Tobago is at a historical crossroad, and that the May election provides an opportunity for a democratisation of the PNM.
“The internal election system represents an opportunity for an internal debate as to the future direction of the PNM and by extension the country. The most fundamental issue is that of the PNM offering to the electorate a leadership that can improve the quality of life for all our citizens. The PNM must demonstrate to the electorate participatory democracy versus that of status quo political practices. We are at the crossroads of our political history. We must demonstrate to the nation that our internal elections are open and transparent. If we are to win the next general elections, then we must mobilise our entire membership base and attract new voters. This can only be done by competitive internal elections.”
Penny has bought in to the view that no party which gazes only at its base can win the pivotal 2015 election.
She thus envisages a new political architecture which eschews ethnic and tribal paramountcy and works to bring the two pluralities into a grand coalitional accord via proportional representation.
It also involves a de-emphasis of the Westminster model and the type of adversary political practice that are associated with it.
The model is currently in place in Germany.
Penny is getting some support from a number of homeless COPPITES who signed up as PNM members in order to vote for her.
She also got support from some middle-class women who believe that notwithstanding the fact that Kamla has been a failure as a model for women in politics, they should back her and have her serve as their redemptive scapegoat. Someone has to continue to carry the flag.
Of course, not all women see Kamla as a victim or urge that she should be allowed another bite of the cherry by way of an apology. My judgment is that far more PNM women are supporting Rowley than are supporting Penny.
Many persons have been telling Penny that this is not the time for her to embark on an adventurist campaign that involves working with either the UNC or the ILP. She should withdraw her bid for the PNM leadership, they advise, before it is too late. She has so far refused, and has left her fate in the hands of the “Lord”.
As she said, “The only person I fear is God. They could do what they want; I don’t care, I am not listening. I am not bothering, let them say what they want; if the Lord wants me to be the leader of the party on 18th May, I would be the leader of the PNM; I could walk with my head high and would walk with no fear; I remain calm in the in the face of all that has been spewed against me because my focus is on the party and its future.”
Rowley’s position on constitutional reform is seminal. In his view, proportional representation would destroy the PNM. As he asked Penny, will you agree to execute yourself as long as there is consultation? If you make the mistake of putting a leader in office who is prepared to compromise (on this issue), you would be destroyed in the process.
Rowley’s view is that PR would lead to instable coalitions and that it is at bottom, a formula cleverly crafted to enable the UNC to cling to power supported by partnership groups.
Rowley has made it very clear that what the society needs at this juncture is not fundamental constitutional reform, but a different type of political leader. He believes he is the right man for the job.
As he told his many adoring fans, “I think I have the experience the job requires. I have the dedication and I have a track record of success in treating with what the job requires. I have a vision that Trinidad and Tobago, with good management, can be a much better place.”
Above all however, Rowley is a PNM fundamentalist who can be trusted to look after the interests of the PNM. He openly accuses Mrs Beckles-Robinson of engaging in quisling-like behaviour which puts her reliability and her loyalty to the party into question. He in fact advised party members to “vote for someone whom they can trust”.
I ask you not to compromise the PNM’s position,” which he accuses Beckles-Robinson of having done when PR was being dealt with in Parliament.
“While I have friends and colleagues on all sides of the political divide, I am in nobody’s pockets and I am nobody’s boy, and if you want to lead the PNM and Trinidad and Tobago, you must give no measure and ask no quarter.”
Rowley was in fact openly accusing Penny of playing political “footsie” with Jack Warner, elements associated with the UNC, COP, and moneyed elements who have offered to fund her in return for assurances.
My Express colleague, Clarence Rambharat got it right when he noted that “in promoting Penny for the PNM leadership elections, the Partnership might as well offer the tagline, ‘Vote Penny, Give Kamla a second term’.”