Selwyn Cudjoe

Selwyn Cudjoe

IT used to be that you couldn’t beat the People’s National Movement (PNM) when it came to election strategy and election campaigning.

We may have to reconsider this truism. This time the PNM might be sleep-walking into an unpleasant election defeat.

The Marlene McDonald accident has put a dent in the party’s façade that will be difficult to repair given the party’s hallowed precept, “morality in public affairs”. Marlene was an accident that was waiting to happen. It makes little sense trying to transfer the responsibility of her alleged indiscretions (or so it seems) to the Manning administration so as to let the present leadership off the political hook.

If the PNM wishes to be successful in 2020, it must solidify its base and reassure the party faithful that Marlene’s incident is/was an aberration rather than a permanent departure from its lofty moral heights that kept the party at the top of country’s political ladder.

“UNC does tief; not the PNM” used to be the common wisdom. The Marlene allegations have changed that narrative, which is why the country went silent when charges against her were announced. This being the case, it seems incongruous that the party should open a new office in the heart of the UNC’s stronghold without doing anything comparable in its stronghold.

If the comments of the “Man in the Street” column are to be believed, it is difficult to understand the strategic importance of opening such an office.

They reason: “So because they put an office in the area, they expect to win? Never did, never will.”

“If PNM has been winning areas like Laventille, Sea Lots and Beetham for over 30 years and (they’re) in such a devastating state with crime and poverty, imagine if they win Central...God help us.” “That (Central) is UNC’s stronghold. It will be very difficult for the PNM to win” (Express, August 21).

PNM strategists may have seen something that the lay people do not see. But if the UNC is so entrenched in Central it is difficult to see what the PNM hopes to achieve by making a big push there when some of its seats in the East-West corridor are not as impregnable as they think.

Under normal circumstances one may want to set siege to Central if the strategy is to force the UNC to deploy more financial and human resources to hold on to their stronghold. The UNC is impregnable in Central. One person in the “Man in the Street” column opined: “No PNM in Central; No UNC in Laventille.” This seems the essence of political wisdom.

PNM should solidify its base as it prepares for the next general election rather than make forays into unconquerable territory, at least in the present political climate. The PNM has been hurt by its neglect of its base even as party members welcome the presence of Donna Cox and Adrian Leonce. The party must open more organising centres in the North and the South where its supporters are concentrated. Meanwhile the UNC, under the astute guidance of Jearlean John, has opened several beachheads in the North-East (including El Dorado) to infiltrate the PNM base.

This is a more meaningful strategy given the blunders of the PNM. The possibility of the UNC making inroads into PNM strongholds is more likely than the PNM doing the same in UNC strongholds. PNM strategists should remember that in T&T we don’t vote in a party; we vote them out. And the PM’s careless language (“Public Service a free-for-all,” Express, August 22) is not likely to help matters much.

The PNM’s political arm should be coordinating its election strategy with various ministries that come into direct contact with the disaffected masses who are more likely to be party supporters. This is crucial since the word is that certain ministries (such as Local Government, Agriculture, Ministry of Works and Transport) are not particularly sympathetic to the plight of citizens at the bottom of the society.

The PNM’s election czar will pour lots of money into various programmes (such as the paving of roads, etc) as the election nears. Such a belated attempt at “fooling the people” (manipulating their minds) is not likely to work since the alienation with and defection from the PNM is deeper than its leaders think.

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It is not so much that disaffected PNM members will vote for the UNC as they will vote with their feet. In other words, they will stay away from the polls which will have the same effect as voting for the UNC. This is why PNM needs to pour more resources into its strongholds, now.

In this context, the attacks on Foster Cummings (I suspect some envelopes have been dropped into certain mailboxes) are not likely to help the party. Whatever his shortcomings, he is a solid party man and an asset to the party. His ears are more attuned to the ground than those of many of his colleagues. This is a major asset to the party. Eric Williams, founder of the PNM, embraced the Latin aphorism, “Magna est veritas et praevalet,” as the rallying cry of the party. This quotation translates into “Great is the truth and it will prevail”. Williams substituted “PNM” for “truth,” which resulted in “Great is the PNM and it will prevail.”

This cry is still used to mobilise members of the party. However, the PNM will prevail only if it respects the faith of those who elevated the party to the heights of political power for 47 of the last 65 years.

That is the truth to which the party should return.

Prof Cudjoe’s e-mail is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.


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