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Is PNM leadership convincing enough?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Have the leader and leadership of the Opposition People’s National Movement provided the kind of direction required to entice that critical element of the electorate, those not likely to cast their votes on the basis of tribal and party loyalty, but on programmes, policies, integrity and quality governance, to vote for the party in the 2015 general election?

Keith Rowley and the team in Parliament have been super critical and incisive in their examination of the alleged corrupt activities of government and provided its own slate of allegations against the Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar government. 

Dr Rowley has been penetrating and ruthless in his criticism of the Government, its policies, programmes and governance procedures. However his major revelation, E-mailgate, remains unproven. Further, the PNM must shoulder a portion of the responsibility for not having been sufficiently rigorous in ensuring that Section 34 did not get past its scrutiny without alerting the population (after the Bill returned from the Senate) to what it perceived was the attempt by the Government to favour its investors under the legislation.

But on balance and without having the space to go through all of the contentious debates in the Parliament and how the opposition performed in each of them, it is fair to say that the PNM has attracted wide public attention and perhaps approval for its debating performance and general criticisms of the Government.  

Sure signs of the effectiveness of the Opposition are the times when it got under the skin of the likes of Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, Chief Whip Roodal Moonilal and AG Ramlogan, and ignited defensive antagonism from the ministers.

As a counter to government policies and programmes, the Opposition had the opportunity and responsibility to provide the national community with exciting and potentially-viable alternatives. That has not happened in a structured and comprehensive manner either inside or outside the Parliament. Perhaps the PNM leadership is awaiting what it considers the right moment to reveal the set of policies it intends to take and programmes to be developed if voted into office.

There are undoubtedly strong arguments for making comprehensive proposals for programmatic change in a pre-election document—the assumption being that the PNM has been doing the thinking and background planning required to develop effective policies and programmes.

However, for the PNM to have developed and articulated counters to at least a few of the conceived failures of the Government would have immediately demonstrated a party capable of developing capacity and alternatives to those it had been critical off.

For instance, the PNM had the opportunity (and still does) to outline in great detail proposals to reform the present methods used by all of the parties to secure tens of millions to finance campaigns.

Such a set of proposals would have shown the PNM as being committed to ending the now-institutionalised practice of business investors (the said parties have often charged each other for taking funds from drug dealers to pay for their campaigns) paying to acquire a straight and open line to billions of dollars in government contracts.

Such an approach could have returned great long-term benefits to the opposition party as opposed to the PNM waiting to present proposals for change in its manifesto a few weeks before an election. The reality being that such proposals are generally lost in the swelter of campaign electioneering based on party fanaticism, tribal allure and mauvais langue. And in the instance of the example of campaign finance reform, any manifesto proposals presented by the PNM on one of the greatest sources of corruption would be too late to have effect for the 2015 campaign.  

In this respect the PNM leadership has not shown the capacity and disposition to positively transform the political culture in relation to outlining positive reasons why the government has to be changed. 

Leadership quality relating to transforming the PNM to become a truly national party inclusive of all the tribes and political leanings was raised in last week’s column.

The point was made that while in the early selection of candidates there is some measure of an attempt to present non-traditional candidates in certain constituencies now held by the ruling party/ies, there has been no outward indication that the PNM of 2014/15 is going to be anymore all-inclusive and representative than the party under Williams, Chambers and Manning.

In the instance of Dr Rowley, there has been some attempt at making him over to get past those who think him unnecessarily aggressive, abrasive and perhaps unacceptable to segments of the polity. 

It is however important to note that it is equally difficult to make-over the image cut by Kamla Persad-Bissessar over the last four-and-a-half years as being weak and indecisive on several matters including tolerating Jack Warner and Anil Roberts in her cabinet long after it was clear they should have been fired and her initial defence of the appointment by her government of Reshmi Ramnarine to a position she was unqualified for.

Question is how are such issues of leadership likely to influence the voter?

• To be continued


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