Wednesday, May 14, 2014


The upcoming internal elections inside the fifty year old PNM this coming Sunday is of greater interest and importance than most people realize. Oh, Keith Rowley will win. That is a given. Put another way, I would be really, really surprised if he doesn't. His rival, Penny Beckles-Robinson, has failed to excite the PNM ground, nor has she been able to get the Party's membership to consider her seriously. She has not articulated any sort of vision and (although this is very probably a most unfair comment) her main "claim to fame" seems to be that "it's time for a woman to lead the PNM." This is such a pity, because, with a little bit of effort and political "smarts" the Beckles-Robinson team should have been able to market themselves much more effectively. That they didn't probably speaks as much to the culture of the PNM where internal dissent is seriously frowned upon as it does to the team's seemingly amateurish attitude to campaigning. Whatever the reason, Dr. Rowley has had a very easy run in what Michael Harris, a columnist in the Express, has called a most boring campaign. And it certainly was; nobody on either side really discussed where he or she would like to take the Party and (most importantly) the country. No issues were discussed or even debated. It was a "beauty contest", pure and simple ... which is such a shame. Was this the best that a fifty year old Party could do?

Add to this the inherent conservatism in the PNM, which does not have a history of rejecting sitting leaders, and you do not need a political pundit to predict Sunday's results.

So, my bet is that Keith Rowley will win these internal elections in a cakewalk. But that is where the "fun and games" will start rather than end. National elections are due (more or less) in one year from now. It is almost predictable what will happen: the economy will grow, more money will be pumped into the system and the Government will trumpet its undeniable successes and the Opposition will shout about the many scandals. There'll be a lot of 'blah, blah, blah!'

But behind all the talk will be something that will be unspoken on the platforms and never mentioned in the media, whether print or electronic; and that is the heartfelt perception amongst non-Africans in the country that neither the PNM nor Dr. Rowley cares much for them. When Hilton Sandy made his blatantly racial 'Calcutta Ship' remark in last year's Tobago House of Assembly elections Dr. Rowley was on the platform. It was noted by the  non-Africans in the society ... especially the Indians against whom the remark was made ... that Dr. Rowley did not jump up immediately (he spoke after Sandy on that same platform) and condemn the remark. Indeed, it was noted in the non-African community that it took Dr. Rowley three days before he said anything, and only after there had been somewhat of a firestorm of criticism.

There have been other faux pas that have caused consternation in the non-African community (e.g. the  "too black to be Prime Minister" comment of Fitzgerald Hinds) that have left what you might call the "nons" to feel that the PNM is only about black people and that every non-African had better be very careful if they allow the PNM to come into power under Dr. Rowley.

The unfortunate thing about all this is that these are only perceptions and not necessarily the truth. Dr. Rowley will, for example,  strenuously deny that he has a racial bone in his body and will point to the fact that he is the darling of the Syrian (non-African) community, amongst others. He will trot out people like Terrance Deyalsingh and Faris Al-Rawi to prove his point. Unfortunately, in politics, perception is reality and it doesn't really matter who or what you are, but who or what people perceive you to be! And that is the point of this post, i.e., that in order for PNM to win next year the Party will have to tackle this perception head on. If the PNM fails to dispel this perception both about itself and about its leader then it will find it very difficult to achieve a plurality of the votes. And if it wins a majority of the seats with a minority of the votes (always a possibility in a first past the post system) it will find itself in the unenviable position of being a minority governing the majority: a sure fire recipe for real trouble!

Frankly, the sooner the PNM does tackle this perception the better for all of us. We need a vibrant two Party system. We need to have an alternative Government. But that alternative Government will have to convince us that it genuinely cares for all the people and not just a certain section of the society. It also has to come with new ideas and new approaches on  how to solve our seemingly intractable problems. It is a truism that is often ignored that problems cannot be solved with the same level of awareness that created them.

You can bet that the ruling UNC will be breathing a sigh of relief that they will have to face Dr. Rowley next year rather than Penny Beckles-Robinson. The obvious "ground" campaign will be much easier to run against Rowley than against Penny. What is most unfortunate about Sunday's internal elections is that its foregone result will effectively further divide by race an already racially divided society.

P.S. The tragedy is that if Penny were to win (which is about as much of a chance as snow falling in Trinidad) this problem would be greatly diminished!


  1. Excellent analysis and commentary.

  2. Isn't it a pity that the two major parties will continue to get votes based on race and ethnicity rather than on their ability to make life better for us all!!

  3. An excellent analysis as usual. It is a pity that the 'powers that be' don't seem to listen to you. We would be a lot better off if they did.