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When, your programme for change, Dr Rowley?

By Winford James

 Dr Keith Rowley’s team has convincingly won the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) internal election for all of the offices contested and in all 41 of the national constituencies. It decimated Ms Pennelope Beckles-Robinson’s team. The margins of victory were so huge that we can fairly conclude that the voting PNMs were near-unanimous in their preference for Dr Rowley as political leader, for the political leadership was what these elections were essentially about. The results show the PNM is intact and united, which must give Dr Rowley heightened energy to prepare for the 2015 general election. 

But what are the new ideas he and the PNM have? What is the programme for change over 2015-2020?

Those of us looking on from outside have been asking these questions from the moment, early in the tenure of the People’s Partnership Government, it became clear the incumbents had chosen ethnic narcissism over inclusiveness, obeisance to their financiers over meritocracy and evenhandedness, and strict legality over ethical conduct in the way they would govern the country.  Of course, after the electorate’s rout of Patrick Manning for his intolerable excesses, the questions would have eventually been asked, but not that early. But the Partnership’s litany of unforced errors forced the questions on a PNM that was not ready, even as, imprisoned in its long sense of entitlement to office, it called prematurely for elections upon every egregious blunder by the Partnership.

We have not had Dr Rowley’s PNM outline its alternative programme for government in the four years so far, and we did not hear it either in the just-concluded internal election—unless the press under-reported the campaign pronouncements. It has mostly been energetic condemnation of the Partnership’s facile abuses of power, as well as of its lack of progress in critical areas. 

Are the PNM thinking that it can prosper on the trend of the electorate voting out unpopular governments rather than voting in a party with a more credible agenda for change? Or is it thinking it should hold its programme close to its breast lest the adversary steal them?

In no part of Dr Rowley’s post-mortem on the internal election did he intimate an alternative programme of governance, far less outline one. His focus seemed to be on the state of health of the party and, particularly, on the party as a unified monolith: “one political leader and one kind of member—a PNM member.’’

Perhaps for the faithful that is enough at this point? But is it enough for the voters that really count—the fence straddlers, the swing voters? 

Fed up with the deceptions of the People’s Partnership, will those voters want a PNM with no clear agenda for change? Will they be satisfied with another bunch of politicians who have so far presented themselves as being righteously indignant over much of the conduct of the current cabinet and as more decent and evenhanded people? Will they be satisfied with mere exchange, given the PNM’s recent past?

Speaking as a swing voter, I want these questions answered by Dr Rowley (and, so sorry, none of them are no yes-no questions):

What is the most important governance issue facing our democracy? How will you fix it?

How will you ensure that the people in their various publics and communities constrain the excesses and controversial actions of the executive arm of government, short of general elections? 

How will you reform the justice system to ensure that politicians, members of state boards, drug lords, gang leaders, lawyers, doctors, and other big offenders are jailed for their crimes?

How will you treat with militant and gangster religious groups and their corrosive influence on communities?

How will you settle the Tobagonian autonomy question, which the Tobago PNM seems to have wrested from the TOP? In particular, how will you ensure that Tobago grows its economy from the harvesting and management of its marine oil and gas resources?

How will you fix procurement and the loopholes that encourage bribery and other forms of financial corruption?

How will you fix the problem of academic under-performance and indifference among the lower classes in the nation’s schools? How will you stem the tide of illiteracy, innumeracy, and iggraphicacy (read “ungraphicacy’’) among them?

There are other questions, of course. But let’s begin with these. Fashion a programme of change around the answers to them. 

Caught between two mega-parties—one that has disappointed many of its automatic supporters and squandered the goodwill of many of its tourist voters, with the other re-achieving credibility mainly on the incompetence of its replacement—and two would-be third parties, one (the COP) that has conceded its identity to the UNC and one (the ILP) that was recently born out of deep disaffection with the UNC, swing voters and alienated supporter-members find themselves once more in a bind. Should they stick with a party that has betrayed their expectations? Should they dog back to a party that has been too easily gifted conditions of redemption? Or should they turn dramatically to either the COP or the ILP or both?

I hear some voices saying, It’s early days yet. We’ll see… .

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