telling about it: PNM general secretary Ashton Ford, left, and party chairman Franklin Khan during a media conference at Balisier House, Tranquility Street, Port of Spain, yesterday. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

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PNM doing away with maximum-leader style

One-man/one-vote policy coming

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

The maximum leader in the People's National Movement (PNM) no longer exists, party chairman Franklin Khan declared yesterday as he explained fundamental and far-reaching changes to the party's constitution, which are to be debated and approved on Sunday at a special convention.

The "absolute power" which the party's constitution gives to the political leader over the selection of candidates for local and general elections is to be removed via a new regulation which states: "There shall be no veto power exercisable by the political leader in the selection of candidates. Any veto power ... is repealed."

The proposal is that the (eight-member) screening committee by majority vote would select candidates.

Former PNM leader Patrick Manning's use of the power to select candidates created tremendous controversy, especially in the 2007 election.

The party is also moving to implement the one-man/one-vote system which would replace the delegation system.

Khan said no matter what spin you put on it, at a fundamental level, a delegate system of voting could never be more democratic than a one-man/one-vote system.

"As we speak, some 875 delegates determine who the leader of the PNM should be, a party that has some 65,000 members and a party that is expanding its wings.

"It would go a long way in improving the transparency of a party that supposedly has been shrouded in secrecy over the years," he said, adding that there was now Twitter, Internet and "everybody wants to know and be part of the democratic process".

These are arguably the two most fundamental and far-reaching changes to the party's 56-year-old constitution since its inception.

These are the key changes which the party will discuss at Sunday's convention and which the convention would be asked to approve.

In order for the changes to be ratified, two-thirds of the delegates present at the convention must vote, by a show of hands, in favour of the changes.

Khan said he was confident the proposals, made by a committee headed by Bridgid Annisette-George, would be accepted at the special convention.

The third critical change would be the creation of a political leader (Tobago Council) for Tobago, chosen by Tobago delegates in a convention in Tobago. The person would form part of the leadership.

Currently, the leader of the PNM in Tobago is a person appointed by the political leader. Orville London is a deputy political leader.

The Tobago Council would choose candidates for a Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election without ratification from Balisier House. But in a general election, for the Tobago East and West constituencies, the screening committee would consist of the eight members of the Tobago Council and four members from Trinidad leadership.

The principle of the majority vote for the choice of Tobago candidates would still apply.

"We're taking the lead in satisfying Tobago's cry for autonomy," Khan stated.

He said for the election of the position of political leader there would be an instant run-off system. If, for instance, three are contesting and Candidate A gets 40 per cent, Candidate B gets 35 and another gets 25, the PNM does not want its political leader to be a minority leader and therefore Candidate C would drop out and a run-off between A and B would take place.

The length of the office terms in the party would be changed.

Political Leader, chairman, vice-chairman and general secretary would have their terms of office shortened from five to four years, while all other officers would have their terms of office lengthened from one to two years.

Khan said Sunday would be a true red-letter day in the history of the party.

"We have done our introspection, we have listened to the population, to the independent writers, to the editorials, to our membership and our supporters," he said, adding that the party would be bringing in the dawn of a new day.

Khan said the party would be drafting "very robust and clear regulations" that would govern the conduct of internal polls.

"There is always the risk ... this is not a church group so you would have the aggression, but we have a 56-year-old party that has been founded on discipline and goodwill and I do not see, by any stretch of the imagination, that the PNM internal election would degenerate to the level at which the UNC internal election has degenerated in the past."

Khan said the party lost the last general election because the population voted out Patrick Manning and rejected the PNM as a party.

He said the party did not take the defeat lightly and asked itself what was it about the PNM which no longer seemed attractive to the general population.

He said while the PNM constitution remains a robust and profound document which has stood the test of time, the time had come for some major changes.

Khan said, given the "sad state of affairs" in the country with what was passing for a government at this point in time, the PNM had to re-brand itself very, very quickly as the credible alternative "or else crapaud smoke we pipe".

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