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Pulling a Masterstroke

By Dr. Selwyn R Cudjoe
June 26, 2010

For all intents and purposes, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar pulled a master stroke when she announced that she would hold the next local government elections on July 26.

It couldn't come at a worse time for the PNM. Undoubtedly, she caught her opponents by surprise, so much so that the PNM had to postpone its special convention from June 27 to July 4. Conrad Enill, the outgoing chairman of the PNM, says that the PNM can begin its process of rebuilding with the local election. It is the most inauspicious moment to begin such a process, especially when the party has not made a thorough analysis of what went wrong in the last election and has a severe shortage of finances for the local elections. Enill and Martin Joseph, secretary of the party, were not necessarily doing the best thing when they announced their departure from the party. Enill assures us that with vice-chairman John Donaldson and assistant general secretary Rose Janneire "that there will be continuity in the PNM's leadership to support (Keith) Rowley as he chairs the screening committee to select candidates for the local government polls."

Whatever the arrangements, the PNM has a tremendous amount of work to do to prepare for the local elections and rebuilding the party. It is not true, as Enill claims, that "the party's ground troops are already mobilised and the political environment has changed since May 24." It's precisely because the party ground troops failed that the PNM did so badly on May 24. Because of Mr Manning's precipitous actions the party was unable to prepare its ground troops sufficiently for action and their disillusionment with the party's leadership caused the party's fortune to wane. The PNM finds itself in the difficulty of having to select 131 candidates from its depleted ranks which may have accounted for Rowley's more muted statement that "the PNM will be contesting the local government election with all the vigour at our disposal and we will put ourselves at the disposal of the electorate."

This seemed a fair assessment of the situation. All the PNM can do at this time is to put its best foot forward and hope for the best. At present, the PNM controls nine of the 14 local bodies, a condition that will cease to exist after the tremendous surge of popularity of the People's Partnership (PP). Already the desertion among its troops has began. Diptee Ramnath, the lone PNM member of the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation, resigned from his party and joined the UNC on the grounds that PNM had not delivered the goods and services that his constituents required. In fact, Ramdath sees the PP as the party of the future in which he can find refuge. Although this is a sign of cutting and running, it is a bit premature to announce the death of the PNM. I, for one, was gratified when I saw the attendance at the PNM's General Council meeting on Monday last. Balisier House was full and the general mood was upbeat. Most of the members seem to understand that they had lost the battle but the larger war of political survival had just begun.

And they are correct. There is nothing about the defeat of the PNM that suggests that the party has come to an end nor that their hope in the party's future is without foundation. Fifty years as a continuous party, as my mother would say, is not 50 days, and Rowley has demonstrated that he has the mettle to fight the good fight. He knows that the PNM must attract many more good soldiers to withstand the onslaught that confronts them on July 26. We have to remember that Rome was not built in a day and there is nothing wrong with an honorary defeat. The PNM understands more than anyone else that to the victor goes the spoils as well as the responsibilities. And this is where its hopes of resuscitation lie. In Rowley the PNM has a dynamic leader who recognises that "it is easier to call a new election than it is to govern; it is easier to condemn the accomplishments of a previous government than it is to prepare a new budget to show the way forward."

Rowley knows only too well the excitement that came over the British people when it placed the Conservatives-Liberal Democratic coalition into power. After two months in office reality struck when the coalition government presented its budget. The result: the biggest budget squeeze in 50 years that hit the poorest in the society. BBC News announced that the UK faces the "longest, deepest, sustained period of cuts to public service spending since World War II." VAT rose from 17.5 to 20 per cent and all public sector workers making more than 21,000 pounds will have to endure a two-year pay freeze. Even the Queen's annual payment was frozen. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said the budget attacked "the low-paid, the unemployed, pensioners, the welfare state and the public sector as a whole." David Cameron acknowledged that his budget would change "the way of life" of British people.

I am not sure that a similar fate awaits the people of T&T. I only know that there is a financial deficit of $7.7 billion for the fiscal year 2009-10 that has to be financed in one way or another. Our situation may not be as dire as Britain but we will wait to see how our present government deals with our deficit and point the way forward. It may not have to take the drastic measure that British Chancellor George Osborne made but it would not be as easy to fulfil the promises that PP made to its followers. Many may have seen the calling of local government elections before the announcement of the budget as a master stroke which will result in a severe trouncing of the PNM. But, then, one awaits the outcry on the morning after the first budget is read. Only then we will be able to access Kamla's astuteness and the genuine popularity of the PP; only then and only then we will know how user-friendly the PP really is. It is only then we will see why the PNM must organise itself to be a government in waiting.

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