There was sustained applause yesterday when People's National Movement (PNM) chairman Franklin Khan announced that the "ayes have it" and the proposals which include—the one man/one vote, the reduction of powers of the political leader and measures for greater automony for Tobago— had been accepted, following the unanimous show of hands by the delegates at convention.
"Delegates and observers gave a standing ovation for almost five minutes to usher in a new era in the PNM," the party stated in a release.
"It was an emotional and historic moment for the PNM," general secretary Ashton Forde told the Express. Forde said during the discussions on the constitutional amendments, political leader Dr Keith Rowley was praised for having the courage to support amendments which would limit the power of the political leader. "People are generally reluctant to relinquish any power," Forde said.
Speaking to the convention earlier in the day, Rowley said yesterday he could say "with the greatest of confidence" that if the party's founding father Dr Eric Williams were alive today he would have accepted that the changes to the PNM's constitution were the right way to go.
He was addressing a special convention of delegates, called to consider and vote on a number of changes to the party's 56-year-old constitution.
Rowley said if the party approves the limitations on the absolute power of the political leader over candidates, he would consider his leadership to have been a "fantastic success". He said the absolute power of the political leader over the choice of candidates was open to abuse.
"I have been around for 30 years functioning in this party and I have seen instances where persons who have been the subject of that power where in fact, if somebody doesn't like you, then you have a mountain to climb," he said.
"That ought not to be the basis on which we choose candidates to represent this party to manage the country's affairs.
Noting that change was not easy for many people, Rowley said to those who had some "queasiness" over the changes, he wanted them to take comfort in the fact that these were no arbitrary or capricious changes.
Rowley said for many years the PNM had not been reaching out in the way that it should and not operating as a rally for all. "Now we are prepared to lay the groundwork to do that, to involve all our membership, to invite the national community to join us because we are holding out the prospect of greater participation," he said.
He said with the one man/one vote system being implemented the party had already taken steps to make sure that its membership list is up to date, digitalised and available in such a way that at any point in time the party would know exactly who every one of its members were.
On the reduction of the term of the political leader from five to four years, Rowley said there were concerns about the possibility of changing the leadership just before a general election. He said: "What is this fear you hold? We in the PNM have shown that we could make leadership changes on the verge of a general election and come out with a fantastic victory." He was referring to the death of Dr Williams in 1981 and the victory at the polls in the same year.
On the issue of Tobago, Rowley said when Tobagonians called for internal self-government, the PNM took a long time to understand the strength of that sentiment. He said it was after the party changed the constitution to create the Tobago Council, it moved from one seat in the Tobago House of Assembly to eleven. He said the proposed changes which related to Tobago, were designed to give the people of Tobago as much automony as the party could afford.
Rowley said the leadership and the General Council had approved the changes to the constitution, and with the exception of one abstention and one vote against, all General Council members present had voted in favour of the changes. —Ria Taitt