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Internal election dynamics

Sunday, March 25, 2018

“Permit me to get personal on this, I heard my colleague talk about our political opponents. It is not only your political opponents that can do bad things, your political friends can do bad things too. This project wasn’t stopped by our political opponents, it fell prey to our own politics in the PNM.”

With those words, it would appear that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley launched his re-election campaign for the post of political leader of the PNM. If there is any slate that is running against him, then he has laid the groundwork for battle.

It is difficult to see why he would specifically blame the PNM itself in such a frontal manner when this could so easily be passed off as People’s Partnership victimization or incompetence or any of the other allegations that can so easily be used to defend against policy delays or lapses in the transition from one government to another. But to turn his fire on his own party was a most unusual development.

Subsequent to that, Mrs Hazel Manning, widow of the late prime minister Patrick Manning, as well as former PNM housing minister Emily Gaynor Dick-eduFord both responded to Rowley with denials of their own with Dick-Ford going even further to threaten the possibility of legal action.

The PNM Women’s League was quick on the draw to defend their political leader. This has laid the groundwork for whatever action is likely to take place with the filing of nomination papers for the PNM internal elections which seem set for June.

Concurrent with all of this is the reality that there may be two local government by-elections being held while the internal campaign for the PNM elections is under way.

This would appear to be a strategy to mobilise the party. Additionally, one does not know what the position will be with the La Horquetta/Talparo seat given the very difficult health situation being faced by MP Maxie Cuffie. This is a very challenging situation for his family given the uncertainty as well as for all parliamentarians because what Maxie is suffering could happen to anyone of them at anytime.

Based on announcements made by PNM Chairman Franklyn Khan at the post-General Council press briefing two Saturdays ago, nominations for the two local government districts were to be closed on March 19 and screening will take place on March 28 with the Prime Minister expected to announce the date for those elections shortly thereafter.

That is going to place those elections smack in the middle of the PNM internal elections seeing that there has to be a five-week campaign for the by-elections. Will La Horquetta/Talparo be included? That will be for the Prime Minister to decide.

Internal elections have become a feature of the local politics in the last two decades. What was pioneered by Basdeo Panday and the UNC and adopted by Winston Dookeran and the COP was adopted by the PNM in 2014. This has changed the political culture of political parties in this country.

The COP numbers have dropped significantly from what they once were, while the UNC and the PNM are the only two parties that have very large membership lists that can turn one of these internal elections into a mini general election.

Now it is the turn of the PNM to hold their internal elections. In the UNC, Kamla Persad-Bissessar was able to harmonise the elections for the position of political leader with that of the National Executive on two occasions—2015 and 2017.

The PNM has stuck to its four-year time cycle from 2014 to now. Some of the comments that are made by candidates for internal elections against their own colleagues can border on placing party unity at risk.

Dr Rowley has fired his first shot. Responses have been made. The internal election is now here.


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