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Rowley leading a divided PNM
Political analysts are of the opinion that Opposition leader Keith Rowley has failed to command a consensus in his party and that the PNM is currently divided. They all spoke about the state of the 24-month-old Opposition on the second anniversary of its 2010 election defeat, and whether the PNM was an effective Opposition—and if not, why.
“Dr Rowley does not seem to command the consensus in the party. There’s still an element that still has a lot of sympathy for Mr (Patrick) Manning,” said Dr Hamid Ghany. He said the prospect of “two leaders still being prominently side by side” had not helped the rebuilding process in the party, which he said has been shell-shocked by its huge defeat at the polls.
“The party has focused on too many personal issues to do with Opposition members and personalities, as opposed to issues, and that has devalued contributions. The apparent rift between Mayor (Louis) Lee Sing and the chairman coming out also suggests a wider set of disagreements within the party, so there is a division in the party,” he said.
“As well, the PNM has not really taken a position on the Highway Re-Route situation nor the Carisal project and Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and his group are emerging as a de facto opposition,” Ghany said. “At the same time, there are elements within the People's Partnership who want to be both Government and Opposition at the same time. This is also squeezing out the official opposition who find themselves part of the clutter of commentary from the COP, MSJ, Kublalsingh and the PNM.”
He said the PNM’s strategy might be to sit back and let the COP and MSJ continue with their disagreements with the UNC in the hope that there will be a fracture. However, he said, “By staying silent, they run the risk of ceding their role to others in the Government, while the Government is still standing and is not in fear of falling.”
Political scientist Dr Selwyn Ryan said former PM Manning is casting a shadow over the PNM. “The PNM may have performed, but nobody is listening to them,” he said. That, he said, was because whenever something is done or an assertion is made, the Government’s immediate reaction is to say, “You did it under Manning.”
“This makes it difficult for the PNM to get through. Unless that matter is dealt with, they remain in the box. Rowley doesn’t have the authority which he needs to effect the transformation of the party, so it’s a divided force,” Ryan said. “So he hasn’t taken command of the consensus, either in the parliamentary aspect of the party or the PNM outside. The shadow of Mr Manning still haunts PNM.”
Another political analyst, Derek Ramsamooj, said the PNM has to improve its effectiveness as a possible alternative to the People’s Partnership Government. “A much more proactive and aggressive political campaign is needed, both in the Parliament and in the public domain. That would make the PP Government more accountable and transparent when dealing with public procurement issues and governance issues,” said Ramsamooj.
He said the PNM has yet to present themselves in an above-average satisfactory manner and Rowley still needs to consolidate the rank and file constituency management behind his leadership. “They have at this point in time not yet demonstrated the 100 per cent support behind Dr Rowley.”
Ramsamooj also said there are too many signs and allegations of internal discord. “He needs to strengthen his image not only in the traditional PNM strongholds but more in marginal strongholds. His ability to inspire new membership more so non-traditional membership will be crucial if the PNM is to succeed at local government elections and the general polls ahead in two years.”
Ramsamooj said he believes Rowley has not lived up to the expectations of both PNM members and swing voters in marginal constituencies. “There are numerous political opportunities on the landscape that the PNM can utilise to demonstrate and highlight deficiencies.
At this point in time the PNM is the only official alternative—but some of the ills that plague our society were introduced and developed under previous PNM regimes. So the PNM has yet to demonstrate a new charter of governance that is different from other PNM administrations,” Ramsamooj said.
Political analyst Bishu Ragoonath said the PNM’s effectiveness in Opposition has been very limited because of Rowley’s apparent inability to command the support of all members of his party. “This makes it a little difficult for him to lead an Opposition which is seemingly divided and that has limited his ability to lead the Opposition effectively,” Ragoonath said.
“Also the Opposition’s focus on issues has not been the best. In other words there is room for the Opposition to focus on a lot of other things that could better serve them,” he said. “Dr Rowley has not been able to command the whole of the party just yet, and I think we have to wait until the Tobago House of Assembly elections to see how the party will react and treat with him.
He said Rowley had not made wise choices as to when to speak out. “Several of the issues he has focused upon could have been dealt with by lower-level members in his party or other MPs, but the Leader of the Opposition should have chosen more critical issues upon which to place his focus.”
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