By Jai Parasram
Keith Rowley is deluding himself into believing that he is the new Eric Williams when all the evidence point to the opposite. I was a reporter during the Williams era and I can say with certainty that Rowley is no Eric Williams. It takes more than a march to Chaguaramas to walk in the man’s shoes.
Eric Williams had a vision for Trinidad and Tobago; Keith Rowley has none, other than naked ambition to be prime minister. His idea of a vision is to take the country back to where Williams left it in 1981, ignoring the reality that the world has changed dramatically since then.
Instead of moving the PNM forward into the 21st century, Rowley is ignoring, at his own peril, the demise of the concept of a single hegemonic party and a maximum leader and failing to accept that today’s politics is about inclusion, unity, dialogue and consensus.
The general election of 2010 was the watershed event that marked the paradigm shift and the recent elections in St Kitts and Guyana have unveiled the Rowley PNM as remaining in the Jurassic age. Kamla Persad-Bissessar demonstrated that humility and unity are more powerful political attributes than the divisiveness and arrogance that have characterized Rowley’s leadership since 2010.
Williams was a brilliant strategist; Rowley and his PNM are not. It is no wonder that the PNM today is a poor shadow of the party that it once was.
Nothing dramatized that more than the PNM’s behaviour in the censure motion that led to Rowley’s expulsion from parliament. It was a striking example of Rowley’s poor leadership and lack of the intellectual capacity that Williams possessed. Rowley misread the politics and acted with predictable anger and arrogance, instead of measured critical thinking.
He could have confronted the government and showed his readiness to take office, but he and his MPs chose to walk out in protest, vowing not to return. Three weeks later, pressure from inside and out has caused them to eat their words and crawl back into the House of Representatives – but just long enough to prevent their automatic expulsion for being AWOL, and to keep the financial perks that come with being a member of parliament.
When Colm Imbert threw his tantrum and demanded that his colleagues follow him out of the legislature the Rowley PNM ignored the fact that by their own actions they were depriving tens of thousands of their right to representation in parliament. And there was something that was also significant.
In their haste to abandon their seats, they left ILP Leader Jack Warner as the lone opposition member and he demonstrated that he could fill the void and steal the PNM’s thunder. Having become the de facto opposition leader, Warner alone took on the government, earning the media prominence that he had lost.
Commenting on the PNM’s plan to return to parliament the leader of government business, Dr. Roodal Moonilal, referred to both points and told the media that since the PNM “ran away” Jack Warner “has done probably more work in the last three weeks than the PNM did in three years.” It’s an obvious exaggeration but it makes the point that Warner deeply embarrassed the PNM whether intended or not.
Warner became the opposition at a time when the PNM caucus should have been defending their leader and inflicting mortal blows on the government. And now the leader of the ILP has withdrawn a motion in his name seeking to have Rowley reinstated.
The irony is that it is the PNM that objected to Warner’s move. If Warner had allowed the motion to stand the PNM would have had an opportunity to defend their leader but it seems that their agenda doesn’t include standing up for Rowley.
The other slap in the face for Rowley came from Patrick Manning and NiLeung Hypolite, two of the nine MPs dumped by Rowley for the 2015 general election. Both wrote the speaker requesting leave, which Wade Mark granted. It became more apparent that Rowley had lost control of his party in parliament when Amery Browne also applied for and was granted leave.
Faced with an impending palace coup, the PNM General Council hastily overturned its decision and announced that MPs would return to Parliament on May 22 to debate a private motion regarding the energy sector. Thereafter, they would resume the boycott.
It’s the kind of idiocy that Williams would never have ever considered. The Rowley PNM gave up the best opportunity to take on the government and show their suitability to lead. They are now prepared to come to the House for 10 minutes to seek approval to debate a motion, which is likely to be turned down.
Five years after Keith Rowley bullied his way into the leadership of the PNM he has lost control of his caucus and his party at a time when he should be presenting himself and the PNM as the alternative to the People’s Partnership.
Rowley’s anger, his hate and animosity to anyone who doesn’t share his views, have been a part of his downfall. He undermined his leader and campaigned against him while securing his own seat in order to take charge of the PNM. Now the MPs who sat with him for five years no longer want to be associated with Rowley and to follow directives coming from him.
Manning, Hypolite and Browne have made their position public by their simple gesture of applying for leave of absence. Others are either too shy or too frightened to do the same. But the membership of the PNM and others are paying attention. They have recognised that Keith Rowley is neither fit to lead his party nor the country because so far Rowley has not presented even a weak case showing why people should trust him to run a government.
With an election on the horizon that disappointment could lead to Rowley’s Waterloo.