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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Patrick Manning was declared elected unopposed on Friday, May 14, 1971, which was Nomination Day, ahead of the general election on May 24. Together with Kamaluddin Mohammed, George Chambers, Errol Mahabir, Wilton Hinds, Dr Maxwell Awon, Victor Campbell and Wilbert Winchester, he would not have to campaign to become the MP for San Fernando East for the first time owing to the decision of the ACDC-DLP coalition to lead a no-vote campaign.

After the PNM won the remaining 28 seats on election day, they formed the government with all 36 seats in the House of Representatives.

Manning was appointed parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister. He would have to wait until after the death of Eric Williams to be elevated to a full ministerial portfolio in the Cabinet of George Chambers when he was appointed Minister of Energy and Natural Resources after the November 1981 general election.

As a political survivor, Manning endured the period of internal PNM instability between the sham resignation of Eric Williams as political leader in September 1973 and his death in March 1981. There is good reason to believe that his very public support for Karl Hudson-Phillips as a potential successor to Williams during this period caused him to only earn junior ministerial promotion during Williams’ lifetime.

The two qualities that he demonstrated during this period were bravery and survivability. After Karl Hudson-Phillips and others left the PNM by 1979 to form the ONR, Patrick Manning was not with them. He remained loyal to the PNM.

From his first full ministerial appointment at Cabinet level in 1981, his rise was meteoric. The shambles of the PNM defeat at the hands of the NAR was the occasion when leadership of the party was thrust upon him. After the NAR tsunami of December 1986, President Ellis Clarke formed his own view that Manning should be appointed leader of the Opposition over Morris Marshall and Muriel Donawa-Mc Davidson.

By January 1987, Manning was elected political leader of the PNM at a leadership convention where he defeated Dr Aeneas Wills. His work had just begun and he had to rebuild the party of Dr Williams from scratch.

Between the structural adjustment policies pursued by the NAR administration and the open split in the NAR between ANR Robinson and Basdeo Panday, Manning got much needed assistance in his rebuilding efforts. By the time the 1991 general election came around, he was able to lead the PNM into that election with a slogan that “The Balisier is Blooming Again.” He would win that election with what political scientists call a manufactured majority in which the PNM won a majority of seats (21 of 36) with a minority of votes (44.8 per cent).

His biggest assistance came from the divide between the NAR and the UNC which led to split votes right across Trinidad. As a tactician, Manning was always aware of the fact that future PNM survivability would depend on retaining the first past-the-post system and having two main opposition parties challenge the PNM at all times.

That strategy did not work in 1995 when he called an early general election to avoid a risky by-election in San Fernando West after the resignation of Ralph Maraj from the Parliament in September 1995 over the treatment of his sister Occah Seapaul, the Speaker.

The PNM had lost a critical by-election in Pointe-a-Pierre in 1994 which reduced their majority by one, and with the suspension of Speaker Seapaul in 1995 that majority was further reduced when the Deputy Speaker, Rupert Griffith, was forced into the chair.

The gamble on a general election after three years and ten months in office failed and led to a hung Parliament of 17-17-2. Against a backdrop of his own refusal to join any coalition, the UNC and the NAR formed a coalition government and Manning gave way to Basdeo Panday with the help of ANR Robinson.

Panday would win re-election in 2000, but it would not last for long as Manning was able to cleverly execute his strategy to create a division within the UNC that yielded the support of Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Ralph Maraj and Trevor Sudama.

After an inconclusive general election that ended in an 18-18 tie in December 2001, ANR Robinson, the president, repaid Manning for removing him from power in 1995 by making him the Prime Minister on Christmas Eve.

Manning would actively pursue a policy of facilitating another fracture in the UNC after winning the 2002 general election and he succeeded in having key PNM financiers surreptitiously assist with the creation of the COP between 2006-2007 which helped him to win the 2007 general election.

He tried to move swiftly on this division with a snap election in May 2010 after a leadership change in the UNC in January 2010, but it collapsed on the eve of Nomination Day when the UNC, COP and TOP formed an alliance to contest the election. His gamble failed.

His hallmark was political bravery with a good dose of political insight wrapped with the philosophy of Machiavelli. May he rest in peace.


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