In the end, an adrenalin boost was probably the most important dividend for party supporters from the failed bid of Pennelope Beckles-Robinson to wrest leadership of the People’s National Movement (PNM) in Trinidad and Tobago from Dr. Keith Rowley. For having been the driver of what produced that bit of a battle-readiness rise for party members, Beckles deserves commendation. In many quarters, Rowley’s remaining in place as party leader was seen as a foregone conclusion. Pretty much confirming this were poll results published shortly before last Sunday’s internal election in the Express (other surveys as well) which showed barely minimal support for the challenger – a challenger who, in light of the very tainted current administration led by the country’s first female prime minister, inscrutably seemed hooked on playing the gender card, supposedly for its cachet.
As is the case universally with intra-party squabbling, the PNM will surely have its share of fence mending to do, preparatory to full engagement of the task at hand: earning the electorate’s mandate to replace the government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, whenever general elections are held. In respect of which, Rowley’s scheduling of the internal election at this time was tactically prudent, presumably allowing time enough for the closing of factional rifts. In the event of cleavage with the potential for significant self-inflicted political damage, a party could benefit from any gray eminence within the ranks that really measures up to the role. And here, former Prime Minister Patrick Manning comes to mind.
The Rowley-Manning narrative has at times reflected prickliness. Rowley first challenged Manning for leadership of the PNM in 1996 after Manning, as prime minister, had called a snap election the previous year and wound up losing control of the government. Many felt that Manning’s embrace of both Rowley and key players (including Beckles) who supported Rowley in his challenge, was never again the same. By the latter stages of the administration Manning had begun heading in 2002 with the PNM’s return to power, Rowley, although a cabinet member, was apparently becoming disaffected with some of the Manning m.o. That tension erupted into a public brouhaha when Manning dismissed Rowley from his cabinet post on rather specious grounds. And when Manning prematurely called a new election halfway through the term of the government elected in 2007, speculation was rife about whether he would veto Rowley’s running for re-election. Manning’s loss in that 2010 election to the Bissessar-led coalition prompted Manning’s ouster by the PNM hierarchy and Rowley being installed as political leader.
Given that history, it should surprise no one if Manning is at this point not disposed to the generosity of spirit it would demand of him to lend his voice to tamping down any post-election party friction. But a demonstration of magnanimity on that order is precisely what’s required of Manning in the station he now occupies in the party. Some years ago a situation developed which seemed to ask of Manning a similar graciousness. Sometime after he had fired Rowley from his cabinet, Manning was stricken with illness serious enough to induce from him rumination on his mortality. That turn of events looked to be the perfect opportunity for Manning’s revisiting of what had been generally viewed as an unjust dismissal (certainly, as far as the rationale publicly advanced) of Rowley. For whatever reason(s), Manning would leave things be. Manning again fell ill, after retaining his seat in the ill-fated 2010 election, a stroke causing his protracted absence from Parliament until quite recently. So here comes a replay. Eyes are again trained on the former prime minister and longest-serving parliamentarian, curious as to whether he is of a mind to stand tall as party elder. Or signify, by his silence, a willingness to encourage and/or condone divisiveness.
For his part, Rowley, having now received the party rank and file’s formal assent for unfettered leadership, can concentrate on formulation of a comprehensive plan for governance of the country. There were voices critical of his not doing so during the internal election campaign. To have gone there would be absolute rock and hard place territory. Were Rowley to have indeed rolled out any vision for Trinidad and Tobago while campaigning, some of the very critics would likely have called him out as presumptuous for doing so and “dissing” his opponent in the process.
Except for the bias one expectedly finds among its hard-core support base, the Bissessar administration’s record of unprecedented abuse of the privileges of government is a given fairly routinely agreed upon by observers. Based on their unenviable track record, it is difficult to imagine where, beyond that unswervingly loyal base, Bissessar and her confederates get electoral support for a re-do. One is tempted to suggest that the mission for Rowley and company is merely to avoid the flight path charted by the current governing crew upon assuming office four years ago.
But of course that will not suffice. There are problems aplenty in Trinidad and Tobago that cry out to be addressed. The signals emitting from Rowley so far tend to convey an awareness that for some of the most intractable of these, much more than a deployment of financial resources is required. Convincing the people is next on the agenda.