Prove me wrong, PNM
By Raffique Shah
November 17, 2013
Much to the dismay of its detractors, the People's National Movement (PNM) bounces back like the proverbial bad penny almost ritually every five years since it first lost an election in 1986. In the current political scenario, unless the 57-year-old party shoots itself in the head, the incumbents discover some magical elixir, or a mass uprising, a kind of "Trinidad spring", occurs and spawns something new and exciting, the PNM will return to power in 2015.
This would hardly be a progressive step, of course. For a country that has such immense potential, we remain trapped in a time warp, a Singapore-of-the-West that remains incapable of fully exploring its possibilities. For this sad state of affairs, the PNM must take much blame since it was in government longer than any other party or combination of parties.
Realistically though, whenever parties that are worse at governance than the balisier bunch have taken the nation to the brink or on a dangerous path, the PNM has returned to power based largely on the perception that it offers stability, whatever that is worth.
Last week, I showed how and where the PNM has recovered from the Partnership-drubbing it suffered in 2010, and why it seems set to regain power. Even in its darkest elections hours, the PNM retains a base that, while it has shrunk in the past 20 years, is solid. In 2010, for example, it won only 12 of 41 electoral seats, but it garnered almost 40 per cent of votes cast (the Partnership won with 60 per cent).
In 1986, when it was decimated 33-3 by the NAR, the PNM still enjoyed 32 per cent of votes cast to the winner's 66 per cent. In the intervening elections, the PNM's lowest share of the votes cast was 45 per cent (in 1991 and 2007). So even though it never won a huge number of seats (its best was 26 in 2007), the support it received was at all times significant.
Of course, its support base post-1986 declined from the halcyon era of 1961-1981. In that period, the PNM consistently commanded an absolute majority, polling more than 50 per cent. There are those who insist that the voting machines, used between 1961 and 1971, were rigged to favour the PNM's 66 per cent control of the number of seats in Parliament.
How they explain the PNM's repeat performance when the ballot box was restored in 1976—same margin of victory, and around 53 per cent of the votes—defies logic. I should add by way of comparison that the UNC, other than in its first foray at the polls in 1991 (29 per cent), has also maintained an above-45 per cent average at every election. The difference is that while the UNC enjoys high voter turnouts in its core constituencies, this invariably does not translate into seats.
Voter turnout for the PNM in what can be deemed its support base declined since 1971, something I attribute to the impact of the 1970 Black Power revolution, which eroded some of that core. However, except in a few constituencies that are overwhelmingly Indian, the PNM's support across the country is spread more evenly than the UNC's.
In the current scenario, PNM supporters who voted the Partnership in 2010 to register their disgust with Patrick Manning's insensitivity to the popular will are returning home. More importantly, that important block of voters who hold allegiance to no party, but who put the country's interest first, are leaning towards the PNM.
So barring any unforeseen developments over the next 15 months or so, the PNM would return to office, albeit with a narrow margin of victory.
As I remarked earlier, this does not signal any dramatic development for the betterment of the country. The PNM of today, other than having a new leader in Keith Rowley, has said or done nothing different to what it did in 1991 or 2000 or 2010. In fact, its key spokespersons speak wistfully about continued industrialisation, presumably hoping to resurrect the aluminium smelter plant and similar heavy industries that people rejected the last time around. The prohibitively expensive rapid rail mass transit system remains Colm Imbert's pet project. In essence, PNM's handling of the economy will hardly differ from the UNC's—same old, same old. Put another way, what will the PNM do differently with respect to housing that is misdirected, hence chronically inadequate? What of social mitigation programmes that fail to reach the neediest? An education system that is systemically weak, premised on laptops for all and tertiary education of dubious quality but wanton quantity? Nothing. I challenge the PNM to prove me wrong.
Worst of all, there is the arrogance of peewats-come-to-power that is transient among the UNC types, simply because they are transients, but institutionalised in the PNM, because they think they own the country.
Is this country prepared to digest another dose of Imbert-in-office? Or a mannequin who proclaims in Parliament, as if she were in the sacristy, "I am a Christian with a big C?"
I repeat, prove me wrong, Keith.
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