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Thanks, But No Thanks

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 10, 2012

While I thank Ralph Maraj for his advice, I am not inclined to accept many of his formulations about the People's National Movement (See Express, April 14 & June 5, 2012). Although he may be generous in offering his suggestions, the party should say thanks but no thanks to what comes over as a disingenuous plug for the People's Partnership. Keeping in mind Maraj's political history—his grasshopping tendency to jump from one party to another—dedicated members of the PNM should think twice before they accept what he has to say.

On April 14 Maraj wrote that "fearless, comprehensive self-examination has not been a feature of the PNM. For example, it never dealt with the steady decline that first significantly surfaced in the Black Power uprising of 1970 and culminated in the devastating 33-3 defeat in 1986." We wonder if Maraj ever took the time to read Dr. Williams' "Chaguaramas Declaration" (1970). If he had, he would have seen that Dr. Williams dealt comprehensively with the challenges of the party in light of the Black Power uprisings and offered what one of us has called the Middle Way to development; a path between socialism and liberal capitalism and the promotion of what he called "the People's Sector" that was intended to "include activities organized on an individual, family or small partnership basis." Maraj may not have agreed with Dr. Williams' formulation of the problem but it is not true to say that the party never dealt with the issues raised by the advocates of Black Power.

Maraj's contention raises other issues. Are parties, no matter how introspective, never supposed to lose an election in a democracy? Even Winston Churchill and his Tories, at the height of his power in 1945 lost to the Labor Party. The BBC reported: "The landslide victory came as a major shock to the Conservatives following Mr. Churchill's hugely successful term as Britain's war-time coalition leader during which he mobilized and inspired courage in a nation." Barack Obama's presidency is trouble even as we write this article. That's just how democracies function. To suggest that PNM lost to NAR after thirty consecutive years in office because they did not make a "comprehensive self examination" is just stuff and nonsense. In the course of the history of democratic societies parties win and lose elections. They always face the challenges of revitalizing and reenergizing their party.

Maraj blames Dr. Williams' power as maximum leader as "the root cause for the absence of the rigorous introspection" of the party. Nonsense again. Any nationalist party (be it Nehru in India, Akizwe in Nigeria, or Nasser in Egypt) that comes out of colonialism that has to hold disparate groups and/or tendencies within his country together has to run a tight, disciplined ship. Frantz Fanon explains this problem succinctly in his book, The Wretched of the Earth. Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indria Gandhi (and the Congress Party) ruled India consecutively for thirty years (1947-77) with the exception of two years that Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister. Gamel Nasser ruled Egypt for twenty four years (1956-70). At least, Dr. Williams did not groom his daughter for the Prime Ministership.

Not content with such an unhistorical and apolitical argument, Maraj comes back at us again by way of the Express on June 5th. He observes "It is sad to see the People's National Movement fading...The populace is daily losing interest in the party. It is exciting no one, including its die-hard supporters who cling mainly to hope." He argues further that that "public discussion, including examination of past sins, is now indispensable for the party's revival" and then goes back to the canard that he raised in April "about the same old dead process, perpetuating maximum leadership, with the PNM behaving like a cult rather than a modern party, a habit largely responsible for its previous state."

The party ruled the society for forty of the past 57 years. They must have been doing something correct and "its previous state" was healthy enough to survive. Over those 57 years, when the PNM went astray, the electorate dealt them heavy blows. It did so in 1986 and again in 2010 when it received a sound thrashing from the PP. Those were the payments it received for the past sins it committed. These defeats were good for democracy and the PNM in that they promote, strengthened and sustained the social and political fabric of a country.

But how does Maraj propose that the PNM enter into a new era. He writes, "Should PNM adopt one man, one vote, there would be immediate excitement in the party, and the nation" (April 14). He ridicules the PNM delegate system for electing its officers and suggests to Keith Rowley: "If you truly believe in one man one vote for the PNM, why have you not been up and down the country preaching the gospel with your known passion and articulate power?" Might it not be that although Rowley favors that position he may be reluctant to take it to the country because the party has not really settled the matter. And apart from mere curiosity, should this not be the business of the PNM? To the degree that the media speak about it, it is to that degree that these activities become a part of the national agenda.

And is one man, one vote necessarily the best thing for the party and is it the answer to the party's problems as Maraj sees it?

For one thing, Jack Warner won the PP's chairmanship not necessarily because of his integrity or personality but because of the amount of money he poured into the process. In other words, Jack Warner literally bought every vote that he received. And this is the problem with the introduction of one-man one vote into a party's selection process. The person who has the most money; not necessarily the most qualified usually wins. When that happens, we enter into a plutocracy, the rule of money by money, rather than a democracy, the rule of the people by the people, and that is when the society begins to deteriorate. Under such a system, a person of poor means from Talparo is not likely to triumph over a person who is supported by individuals or organizations that are better financed than he is.

This happened in the recent Republican primary in the United States. Mitt Romney did not win the Republican primary because he was necessarily the best candidate. He won because he had the most money to spend. Anyone who is following the US electoral process will realize the US Supreme Court decision in favor of Citizens United that allowed individuals and corporations to pour millions of dollars into the primaries became a decisive factor in that election. In fact, the November election may be decided by how much money the superpacs pour into the election rather than the relative qualities of those who are running for the presidency. Already, Karl Rove and his American Crossroads GOP superpac has raised over a billion dollars (US) not so much to talk about what Romney will do but to besmirch President Obama's reputation and talk about what he has not done.

So that talking about one man one vote, particularly in party elections, rather than a delegate system may not necessarily be the best thing for our democracy. In time we may kiss our democracy goodbye and only people like Jack Warner with the financial wherewithal would be able to stand for elections. Forget the poor boy or girl in the country districts who may wish to rise from humble beginnings to the top of the political ladder depending on his or her intellect, integrity and ability. None of them should strive to be like Jack Warner which is what Maraj is implying.

This brings us to the heart of the matter. Implicit in Maraj's argument is that the election of 2015 will be a referendum on PNM rather than the PP. I doubt it rather much. The elections of 2015 will be fought around the issues of the economy, crime and even the notion of "unity in diversity" as Maraj puts it. The country has been in recession for the last three years, let us see how the PP government will deal with that issue and take us forward. The murder rate keeps rising. It is now 177; last year this time it was 169. Let us see how well the PP deals with this issue. The PP proclaims a doctrine of multiculturalism that emphasizes our division rather than our unity; let us see how this plays out in 2015. Many citizens are of the the opinion that Trinidad and Tobago has become a much more racially divided society today than it was in 2010. The PP, rather than the PNM will be judged on this.

There are other issues as well. The election will be fought on the hypocrisy of the PP who promised to lower the age for social benefits (old age pension) to 60 but took away half of the pensions of the elderly. The same hypocrisy lies at the heart of the inability of the PP to leave the Privy Council, a colonial holdover, and join the Caribbean Court of Justice. What is their fear of a Caribbean judiciary making judgments about Caribbean citizens? If any party is caught up in the "dead past," it is the PP and the electorate will speak to that phenomenon when election time comes around. And if Maraj wants to gloat about the interracial harmony of the PP he has another thought coming. Each passing citizen is seeing the PP for what it is: a thinly-veiled UNC Hindu party.

So that while Mr. Maraj is undeniably enthused with the PP, the PNM is slowly taking care of its own business. Personally, we would like to see more things happening more quickly. We would like to see many more spokespersons speaking on many more issues. Dr. Rowley should not be the sole spokesman of the party. Other members of the Executive have a right to attend to their functions and take a more public role. Although the creation of a Shadow Cabinet may not be appropriate, there ought to be Shadow Persons or Shadow Personalities who should be designated to speak on issues of which they are knowledgeable. Although Maraj castigates the notion of a maximum leader he calls on Rowley with "his known passion and articulate power" to advance the cause of the party. He does not call upon the Executive to carry out their functions to strengthen the party. Does not the centrality in which he positions Dr. Rowley perpetuate the notion of maximum leader which he denounces? Might it not be that the party, its executives and its various arms need to get more involved in the process from now.

There is no doubt that the PNM has much to do to ready itself for the election of 2015. The PP has been on the scene for only two years but Mr. Maraj has the audacity to warn, "Come on PNM, engage the nation or continue your tragic fading from its consciousness." It is important to note that the word yours, a possessive adjective, is used to denote possession. Tragically or not, PNM belongs to us and we cherish it as our own which is why I say to Mr. Maraj thanks but no thanks for his advice.

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