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PNM's big failure

January 21, 2001
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

MOST of the 276,000 persons who voted for PNM during the last election are bewildered by their cavernous silence. Since the election, we have heard little from PNM leadership. We do not know what they are doing and are giddied by their confusing signals. Although it has put out press releases, filed motions in the Gypsy and Chaitan matter and, most likely, will file a petition to invalidate the result of the Tunapuna constituency, the ordinary citizen does not know where PNM stands and how it intends to lead the country out its present dilemma.

This is one reason why the President has become a national hero. He has filled a yawning gap PNM leadership has left open. Whether one agrees with him or not, one is impressed by his courage, determination and bravery. We are inspired by his ability to delve into uncharted areas. It is one thing to support his position, as the PNM has done. It is another thing to provide the clear-sighted leadership for which citizens yearn. Whether one voted for PNM or not, discerning Trinidadians believe much went awry in the last election. Tobagonians are finding out what we know in Trinidad; that is, the power of money knows no bounds.

Citizens are mortified by PNM's post-election behaviour. After all, a political party, the elevated consciousness of a segment of the society, offers leadership when fundamental questions of a nation's political life are at stake. While there is a place for legal maneuvering, any party that places its hopes exclusively on the legal outcome of a matter is inept and shortsighted. Although PNM is convinced it will win the legal battle, it still has an obligation to engage the public, reason with them, and demonstrate why they ought to act in a particular way. Failure to do this might result in a Janus-faced victory. Even if the party wins its legal battle, next time around it will be devastated by a political hurricane. The legal is no substitute for the political, particularly with a political party.

The party has also given confusing public signals. For the last five years, PNM Legislators walked out of the Legislative Chamber when Rupert Griffith spoke. He is elevated to the Speakership. Rather than show increased disdain, promise never to respect the office while he is there, they capitulate and offer the incredulous redundancy: the PNM will do everything in its power to honour convention and do "nothing to undermine the integrity of the system". When did the preservation of an unjust decision take precedence over a principled stand?

The PNM's statement seemed so inappropriate. Panday does everything to undermine the system. Yet, PNM does not have the foresight to see that participating in such a system and honoring outmoded conventions validate the violations Panday committed. Moreover, it allows an unscrupulous man to advance egregious positions at the expense of our nation's democracy. Yet, the PNM buys into the system more vigorously. It is like throwing good money after bad. Eventually, one squanders one's capital hoping to recover that which is unrecoverable.

To an onlooker, this is an audacious farce. When every element of the Westminster system is being challenged; when most citizens are pointing out the bastard nature of the system; and when the President inserts his signature into the silences of our Constitution, all PNM parliamentarians can do is to pledge their allegiance, slavishly, to outworn doctrines.

Since PNM voted not to place defeated candidates in the Senate, one would have thought they would be the first to challenge such a practice. However, as predictable as the morning sun, they enthrone their own self-contempt. If Panday does not respect PNM parliamentarians (the people's representatives) and they participate in their own (and their people's) disrespect, they bring contempt unto themselves and their supporters. For that, they deserve the censure of the masses.

Then there were thousands of people in Woodford Square who braved the wrath of the police to support our President, question the integrity of the EBC and demand justice in the Gypsy and Chaitan matter. Even the President had the good grace to wave to the people in the Square who applauded his courage. Yet, PNM parliamentarians, disdainful of their fellow-citizens, politely sat in the Chamber and then proceeded to the Port of Spain Town Hall for lunch. In fact, so enthusiastic were they about their noontime repast, they could not even bother to show solidarity with fellow-patriots at Woodford Square.

As we work through this constitutional impasse, the virtues of leadership and self-respect remain paramount. Leaders of political parties are expected to intervene, take the country into their confidence, and advance their position on particular issues. It is only in this way, leaders win the respect and confidence of the masses. If leaders are not respected, it is difficult if not impossible for them to maintain or to convince their followers that their ends are worth advancing. A leader is neither a prince nor principality unto himself. He finds his greatness in solidarity with his people.

On Thursday last, as I walked around with Lennox Smith, the PNM candidate for Canaan-Bon Accord in Tobago, Moses Thomas noted that leaders must be accessible, responsive and responsible. A wise leader seeks the guidance of his people and articulates their pain and suffering. He proves his worth in their hour of need. Although PNM has rendered invaluable service to the society, it must always renew its compact with its people. It can never take the political capital it built up over the years for granted. It must always be renewed, protected and invested carefully.

PNM leadership has the wherewithal to articulate our people's just grievances and the capacity to lead us out of the house of bondage. Yet, our people plead: "Speak with us, we ent no beast."

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