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Raffique Shah


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Win the battle, lose the war

By Raffique Shah
September 09, 2007

PNM leader Patrick Manning must be over-confident about his party's chances in the general elections that should be held no later than early December. Why else would he trigger tremors in the ruling party at this critical point, virtually on the eve of elections?

Whether or not his "secret poll" on the performances of his MPs prompted five of ten among his frontline parliamentarians to declare their decision to not seek re-election may never be known. If there's one thing the PNM has been efficient at in its 51-year history, it is keeping secrets within the fold. So while we in the media may speculate, even pronounce on whispers, supposedly from well-placed sources, we shall never know what is true from what is not.

As a student of military strategy and tactics, I know that the leader, having planned a course of action, may alter this in the heat of battle depending on opportunities-or obstacles-he may encounter. But that is what war is all about. The late Mao Tse-tung, a master-tactician and political theorist, opined: politics is war without violence, war is a continuation of politics using violence. Increasingly, politicians and entrepreneurs are turning to the military masters for guidance in their day-to-day activities.

No corporate executive library is complete without a copy of Sun Tzu's Art of War, which, I imagine sits in politicians' collections alongside Machiavelli's The Prince.

But political leaders are hardly interested in real, military-style leadership, which encompasses, among other sterling strengths, complete integrity (huh?), enduring courage, daring initiative, wide knowledge and skilful judgement. One wonders, though, if Manning has exercised good judgement in booting out some incumbents based on a less-than-random sample poll.

As expected, many PNM members have voiced strong criticisms over their parliamentarians' decisions to not seek nomination. Again, as Reginald Dumas pointed out in his Express column of September 7, this is not the first time a PNM leader has moved against perceived "millstones".

Dr Eric Williams tried to remove some five MPs in the run-up to the 1976 elections, but he eventually bowed to the wishes of the party's constituency groups. Eric did not have the last word (he never appeared on their platforms) and the MPs had their say, all of them winning their seats...a case of "crapauds with balisier ties" which Eric had himself created.

Manning may be seeking to give the PNM another makeover, much the way he did in the aftermath of the party's crushing defeat in 1986, but I question his timing and judgement. At this point the PNM seems to have a virtual open highway to power, what with the UNC strapped with a leader who seems to have gone bonkers, and the COP yet to emerge as a serious threat a la NAR.

In the latter case, we shall get some indication of Winston Dookeran's appeal at his campaign launch scheduled for today. I should warn Winston, though, that Karl Hudson-Phillips and his ONR looked good on the ground, and even did well in the 1981 elections. But the party failed to win a seat.

What I have been sensing for some time now is the PNM faltering in its strongholds even as it picks up support in traditional opposition constituencies. Last Wednesday night's "big launch" in the heart of Laventille was far from encouraging, in that we did not see "the hills come down". There seems to be increasing discontent among traditional PNM supporters in the party's core constituencies. That has come about because after 50 years of PNM domination if not governance, the masses have little to show for their devotion. It is the well-heeled who can boast of what the PNM did for them. For Manning to tell Laventille folks that they can look forward to landing jobs at the new Hyatt Hotel is not being forthright with them. The majority would be lucky to get past security in the ornate lobby, and the few who do would end up as cleaners or cooks. They can hardly aspire to executive chairs in any of these new smog-scrapers.

Some caring government must be able to move these people past URP and CEPEP and into embracing knowledge which, other than the raw violence that many of the younger ones see as their road to quick bucks, is their highway to economic empowerment. But steeped as so many are in the "gimme gimme" culture, one hears loud rumblings among PNM supporters, from Carenage and Diego Martin to La Brea and Toco. If Manning adds to this winter of discontent by denying them the representatives they, not he, wish to see as candidates, one does not know just what might happen.

But the PNM leader seems to think opposition impotence will return him to power with an increased majority. In pursuit of fashioning a party in his own likeness, Manning may well end up retaining power but losing control of the only vehicle that can take him there. In military-speak, that's the classical case of winning the battle but losing the war.