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Will the pnm ever rise again?

By Selwyn Ryan

There was a time, not so long ago, when most people assumed that the once mighty People's National Movement (PNM) was dead and was on its way to meeting its founder in the watery expanses of Paria. Was news of its death grossly exaggerated? Was the once burnt-out Phoenix stirring again? Is the age of miracles in politics over or is it that politics indeed has a morality of its own, and that in the politics of the Caribbean, anything goes? Who would have believed that the PNM and the radical unions would share a bed so soon after the Fyzabad entente, even if the lovein was not explicitly political?

I was a guest at the most recently held PNM Convention, and left with certain impressions. My main impression was that Rowley is now unequivocally the PNM's main political man, and that it is now generally concluded that Mr Manning's surreptitious hope for political restoration was no longer a possibility. The Manning era is unequivocally ended and should be given a proper churching.

Dr Rowley still has many die hard detractors, and there are some who privately let it be known that they would not give a penny to the PNM unless a way is found to pass the leadership on to Penny Beckles, Amery Browne, Mariano Browne or Colm Imbert. Clearly that money will have to remain unspent. The fact of the matter, however is that the Rowley train, with Balisier flowers flying, has already left the station, and those who are late will have to walk more than a mile and a half to catch up with it.

The question as to whether all internal dissent has been silenced, and all hands are now on deck is one which cannot be equivocally answered in any dynamic political party. As Panday was wont to say, in the Caribbean, there is always" some jackass" who would throw his hat in the ring and challenge the leader. People in politics are invariably reviewing their options in order to decide whether or when to jump or stay. My judgement, and it is only a judgement, is that most of the aspirants have accepted the invitation to come home, and that they have done so, and have brought their tails behind them. In terms of leadership, Rowley is clearly the only game in town, the only practical choice.

One is not sure what to make of Dr Rowley's alleged makeover, given his political age. Would political botox make any difference? I read somewhere that Margaret Thatcher had a makeover and I am not sure that It made any difference. Margaret Thatcher remained the unloveable person she always was. She is however ranked as Britain's most outstanding Prime Minister.

Of course all depends on what one is trying to reengineer — a body, a face, a behavioural trait, a mannerism, a voice, an accent, an apolitical posture, or all of the above. Incidentally, I have never been able to determine what it is people find wrong with Dr Rowley except that he has a tendency to be too mercurial and some say too unapproachable. Clearly however, he is one of the smartest and most competent political leaders in the country and the region. I am also convinced that he is clean and that Landate is a nonsense-cause, enough to close down the Integrity Commission which clearly has a credibility and a capacity problem. The Integrity Commission is not "blight" as some say: It it is dysfunctional.

Is the electorate now willing to allow Dr Rowley a place at the political table? Once upon a time, not too long ago, there was much talk about "new politics" and the "Politics of coalition building". That was the paradigm of the day. There was also an assumption that the PNM was toxic and that no serious political party would dare sit with it, let alone do anything else with it. Section 34 has dynamited that orthodoxy. What was done in the name of justice is now seen by many as being worse than what was done to the national psyche by Calder Hart, the Prophetess, and that bunch.

Those ethical missteps were understandable if not acceptable, since we are all weak and all given to temptation. "Section 34," however, stuck in the national craw and told the gazing world that we are an overripe banana republic in which justice could be hawked ad hominem to the highest bidder. The State itself had become a criminalised commodity, a dancer for money. Everybody" knows" or believes they know what the prices were,(any old shilling would do) but for a variety of reasons, prefer to whisper and gossip.

Given all this, the PNM, under Dr Rowley's leadership, is no longer seen as being unelectable. Rowley not only accepted an invitation to the formal opening of the Divali Nagar, but has signalled that, as it was in the beginning, the party was a "rally" cutting across race, religion, class etc and not a yelping common breed party. Somebody had erroneously and unilaterally proclaimed a "stand alone" option . That doctrine was however never officially defined as party policy, and it is to be recalled that a deal was once made with United National Congress (UNC) rebels in 2001. It was thus no "clause four," no sacred cow, which was never to be slaughtered on the bench of history. In short, Dr Rowley was saying that the PNM was once more open for business, and that their target date for bids was 2015. As Rowley put it, "the win alone, lose alone syndrome" was articulated by Mr Manning. We think the politics was changed significantly (for us) to rethink that position".

Jack Warner has raised the question as to whether the PNM can attract Congress of the People (COP) voters. He taunted Rowley and others, claiming that he did not see the 'diverse' coalition which he had been led to expect would be marching through Port of Spain. All he saw were people of African descent, people who were beneath his noetic. The fact that it was not diverse signalled to him that the march was inspired by politics. But does it not follow that the other ethnic groups were playing a serious game of their own?

Jack's logic was of course faulty. We note first that the COP itself is a coalition. Some of its older members lean towards the PNM and some to the UNC. Then too, most people have more than one identity. They use whichever is most relevant for the occasion. There were many persons who wore red shirts but who were not there for reasons of party politics. Some wore party clothes and some did not. Some were "cross dressers". All that one need say at this point about Jack is that he seems to need specialist help himself, and should be advised to consult one. It would also seem that he, and not Rowley, needs the personality make-over. Jack is clearly afflicted by hubris.

Some might say that what appears to be hubris, might well be planned missteps, and that Jack is being used by party strategists to say and do things that they themselves would wish to have said but would rather play the role of the ventriloquist who puts words in someone's mouth rather than voice it himself. That strategy however requires cynicism and may be too clever by half. Jack, I suspect has his own agenda and his own urgencies. We would have to take another look at the Jack phenomenon later for what it is worth.

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