Trinidad’s opposition consolidates

After a hectic campaign that took on the proportions of a general election exercise, the People’s National Movement consolidated its acceptance of Dr Keith Rowley, functioning in an acting capacity since the indisposition of Patrick Manning, as the new leader of the party. This was really the PNM’s first experience of a competitive party election, Eric Williams and Patrick Manning having dominated a more restrictive process. On this occasion, the internal opponents of Rowley in effect forced a competition, taking the stance, essentially, that his personality would not be attractive to the wider electorate.

However, Rowley’s opponents leaned not only on their assessment of his personality, but sought to match their insistence on what they deemed to be an alternative personality-type to him for the leadership, by trying to capitalise on what they perceived to be weaknesses of the UNC and government coalition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar. Their evidence was drawn from the coalition’s failures in recent by-elections; and their conclusion was that it might be best for Mrs Persad Bissessar to be combated by a female on the PNM side in the person of Penelope Beckles-Robinson, herself a longstanding senior member and official of the PNM.

The difficulty for Ms Beckles-Robinson, from the electorate’s perception, seems to have been what appeared as her relative lack of active participation in the party’s affairs, in spite of her holding a senior office. A consequence seems to have been that Rowley was perceived as having carried the major part not only of the PNM’s work in the Parliament of Trinidad & Tobago, but its work in the reorganizing of the Party itself.

Rowley, too, appears to have benefitted, in terms of showing his capability for effective leadership, from the major defeat of the UNC in elections to the Tobago House of Assembly, where the PNM has tended to hold sway in the last decade or so. Efforts to minimize the significance of those elections on the basis that Tobago had certain peculiarities not operative in the Trinidad political scene seem to have failed. And Rowley has always been in a position to insist that he has been a successful PNM candidate in the Trinidad constituency of Diego Martin East, for many years.

Similarly, an attempt to portray Rowley as being incapable of attracting the multi-ethnic population of Trinidad & Tobago, on the grounds that he was perceived as essentially representing the black element of the country’s population, seem to have completely failed to attract the PNM’s national constituency.

It would appear that Rowley’s combative nature when coupled with a technical competence in dealing with the intricacies of Trinidad’s economy and its process of involvement in playing for an increasing investment particularly in the oil and gas industry, a situation fortified by actually holding the position of Acting Leader since Manning’s resignation, will have played a significant part in placing him well ahead of Beckles-Robinson in the election.

But there would also seem to have been an emerging sentiment that indications of corruption in the administration of the ruling coalition need to be pursued by a strong personality on the opposition side, and Beckles-Robinson, by her relative silence on emerging issues, cannot have helped herself.

The election results will, most likely, have the effect of ridding certainly the UNC part of the governing coalition of the potential for exploitation of a continuation of internal bickering in the PNM ranks. And it would be surprising if disgruntled elements, some of whom have held senior positions in the PNM party and government ruling apparatus, were to feel that the ruling coalition presents itself, at this moment an enviable attraction for defection from the PNM.

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