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Rising from Rock Bottom

By Dr. Selwyn R Cudjoe
July 30, 2010

Forgive me if I do not feel as jaded about the PNM as so many commentators do.

The PNM is down but it is not out. However, the infighting that we are beginning to see certainly does not help. While it is true that the PNM has reached its nadir, in time it would begin to assert itself and continue to be an important national presence. It would not necessarily do so as it did before and with the same force but whatever happens it will remain relevant to our society’s political aspirations. In times such as these we are quick to draw conclusions about the fate of political parties and social groupings without understanding that history must be viewed as a process rather than a static phenomenon. We draw the wrong conclusion if we look only at the results of the last general and local government elections and conclude that the PNM is done. In fact, the recent performance of the PNM should not allow one to conclude that it has no future in this society nor that the People’s Partnership remains an implacable force of nature.

In the end, we are dealing with people who are fallible and who are prey to the mistakes than any group of people makes as it gets down to the nitty gritty of ruling a country. There are many reasons why the Partnership is where it is today. The first has to do with the changing demographics of the society. In 1946, Africans consisted of 46.8 per cent of the population whereas East Indians consisted of 35 per cent; in 1990, Africans decreased to 39.6 per cent whereas the East Indians rose to 40.3 per cent of the population. By 2000, Africans had slipped to 38 per cent whereas the Indians increased their numbers to 42 per cent, which suggests that by 2010 there were more Indian than black voters. Given the propensity of Indians to vote in greater numbers than Africans and their solid commitment to an Indian party, the writing was on the wall. PNM was neither listening nor thinking. The results were inevitable. Up until 2010, East Indians had tended to split their votes. In 2010 it was a different story.

In 1952, Badase Sagan Maraj consolidated the two major Hindu groups (the Sanatan Board of Control and the Sanatan Dharma Association) into the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, which emerged as the most powerful Hindu organisation in the country. It would serve to consolidate the Hindu vote. In 1956, Badase formed the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which received 20.3 per cent of the votes and five seats whereas the PNM received 38.7 per cent of the votes and 13 seats. During this election, there was a split in the East Indian votes, with the Muslims and the East Indian Christians voting with the PNM and the Hindus voting with the PDP. The Federal elections allowed the PDP to bring in different political elements to form the DLP, which succeeded in gaining more seats than the PNM, although each party received roughly the same number of votes. In the 1961 election, the DLP received 42 per cent of the votes as opposed to the PNM’s 57 per cent. Significantly, voter turnout among the Indians was over 90 per cent, with as many as 95.17 per cent of the voters casting their votes in the St Augustine constituency.

In 1976, the ULF (a revivified version of the PDP/DLP) was able to capture only 26.9 per cent of the votes for 12 seats whereas the PNM, with 53.6 per cent of the votes, captured 24 seat. In 1986, the ULF came together with the Organisation of National Reconstruction, the Democratic Action Congress and the Tapia House Movement to form the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). The result of their combined efforts was obvious. They beat the PNM to a frazzle. In 1995, the PNM called a snap election. Both the PNM and the UNC received virtually the same number of votes (256,195 and 240,372 respectively) and equal number of seats. ANR Robinson broke the tie and the UNC was able to rule. By 2000, the UNC had increased its percentage of votes to 51.5 per cent whereas the PNM had remained relatively flat. In the 2007 elections, although the PNM won 26 seats, it had only garnered 299,813 votes as opposed to the combined total of 342,466 votes for UNC and the newly-formed COP.

More importantly, while the PNM voter base stayed stagnant, the predominantly Indian vote (COP and UNC) kept on increasing to the point where they demolished the PNM in both the general and local government elections in 2010. These results and the movement of the votes suggest that while the East Indians consolidated their votes the PNM began to plateau around 1995. The inability of the PNM to increase its voter base and extend its reach proved disastrous. It having captured government blinded it to the realities of the times, which is why Mr Manning could have made such a catastrophic blunder in 2010. However, once the People’s Partnership has had a chance to govern, the electorate would have a better yardstick by which to measure its performance, which is what Keith Rowley was trying to say in his concession speech on Monday evening. Herein lies my faith in a resurrected PNM. The PNM received 39 per cent of the votes in 2010, which compares favourably with the 26.9 per cent of the votes the ULF received in 1976. It is from that base that it began to rebuild. It is from a base of 39 per cent that the PNM will begin to rebuild.

Just as the PNM was judged by its performance, so too would the PP be judged by how well it handles the economy, deals with the issues of crime, and creates a more harmonious society. Indians particularly will bask in the glory of their triumph. Given the development of a more sophisticated electorate, which is inevitable, and a more non-ethnic approach that will emerge among more citizens, ethnic sentiments will give way to national sentiments and the PNM’s place will be assured in our political geography. It is within this circumference of ideas that I expect the PNM to rise again to give voice to the legitimate sentiments of an expanded electorate.

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