By Capil Bissoon
Strange things seem to be occurring these days with the People’s National Movement (PNM).
The PNM was once the party of strict discipline with dirty linen being washed always behind closed doors. Now we keep hearing discordant utterances from party stalwarts, including no less a person than a former political leader and prime minister, of his perception that he is about to be censured by the party elite. He also voiced concerns about the candidate selection process in the San Fernando East constituency. The letter to the leadership of the party stating these concerns was placed in the public domain.
PNM aspirants for candidate selection in Moruga/Tableland and elsewhere have been voicing publicly their not inconsiderable dissatisfaction with the party selection process. Listen carefully to PNM chatter and one cannot help but hear that the party has lost its grassroots connection and is pivoting towards control by an elite middle class backed by big business financiers.
They use candidate choices such as Faris Al Rawi, Stuart Young, Clarence Rambharat and Neil Mohammed as examples of this shift. There has been talk in PNM circles about the choice of the Hyatt as a venue for one of its conventions as indicative of this tectonic shift for a party with historic roots in the University of Woodford Square.
The cultural shift within the party has been incremental but discernible.
A few years ago we had an aspirant to leadership of the party stating publicly that corruption at UDeCOTT was, at the time, ten times worse than the airport scandal. Expect plenty of this on the UNC’s campaign platforms.
The PNM has also been the party that “fought alone, won alone and lost alone”. Now we hear strange utterances from senior spokespersons that the party may consider some form of alliance with other parties.
We witness a very strange, and un-PNM, rapprochement between Jack Warner and PNM spokespersons. Make no bones about it — the ILP is in cahoots with the PNM to wreak havoc in some marginal constituencies. This from a PNM that had many an unkind word to say about Warner while he was in the UNC.
But stranger things are happening. Just a few weeks ago the PNM complained about Parliament not being in session for some considerable period of time. They were anxious to get the people’s work done. The UNC was keeping them back, they screamed. But just last Friday five of 13 PNM MPs were absent from their party’s own Private Member’s Day in Parliament. Those absent included political leader Keith Rowley (away on another of his many foreign trips) and San Fernando East MP, Patrick Manning. Was the party’s whip not concerned about the optics of these absences in the run-up to elections in the context of their past utterances?
Just yesterday, Nigel Henry’s Solution by Simulation published its findings in the Sunday Express, suggesting that at this time, next year’s election is too close to call with Tunapuna going to the PNM and Moruga/Tableland decidedly in the UNC’s corner. There was a dead heat between both parties in San Fernando West and in St Joseph.
One year ago the PNM was riding high with victories in Tobago, St Joseph and in the local government elections. The PNM must have thought they had the 2015 general elections all wrapped up. Today the patient, wily and determined Kamla Persad-Bissessar has pulled the race up from being a sure PNM thing mere months ago to a dead heat today. Six months is a lifetime in politics. The wind appears to be in her sails.
One would have expected a bounce for the PNM in the polls having regard to their recent convention in the Savannah Grand Stand. This was designed to roll out their alternative plans for the country and change the national conversation. Clearly this did not occur and it suggests that the PNM’s platform and leadership excited neither its supporters nor the national community.
This stands in stark contrast to PNM conventions of yesteryear when thousands of vehicles were crammed into parking spaces outside the Chaguaramas Convention Centre as the party faithful kept the flag flying.
It appears that the PNM is quickly losing momentum from last year and 2015 is a very long way in the future. UNC senior members are capable of making the right decisions and if this election becomes, as it will, a choice between two leaders, with two teams and two visions for taking Trinidad and Tobago forward, then all bets are off the table.
Let the battle begin.