Within every political party there exists political manoeuvrings that usually go unnoticed by the general public. Scenes that play out within the private residences of party bosses, with highly influential but unknown middle men having a rather substantial effect on what takes place in the public space. We the public only hear of the end result in somewhat short and precisely worded press releases. Of late it appears that Dr. Keith Rowley has taken a page from the book of the notorious character Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey in the Netflix original series ‘House of Cards’). Underwood once uttered: “proximity to power deludes some into believing they wield it. I put an end to that sort of thinking before it begins.”
With Donna Cox, NiLeung Hypolite and Penelope Beckles-Robinson being denied the opportunity to contest for seats in the upcoming general elections, there has begun to appear cracks in what had seemed to be a solid PNM political front. For some casual political observers this new development may have come as a surprised, but the reality is that such ‘wheeling and dealing’ is to be expected in the world of politics - where seeing things as ‘black or white' is the exception rather than the norm.
Every political party, especially one as large and as dominant on the Trinidad and Tobago political scene as the PNM will surely have their internal political factions. It was not too long ago when on October 13 1996, Dr. Rowley challenged Patrick Manning for the post of PNM political leader after the general election loss of 1995. Dr. Rowley was defeated, having only 279 votes to Manning’s 438; but ever since then Dr. Rowley proved to be almost a perpetual thorn in the side of Patrick Manning. It took him almost fifteen years but the good doctor gained his wish of leading the Peoples National Movement.
Now there is a new threat to Dr. Rowley’s hold on the PNM leadership, and it’s in the form of Penelope Beckles-Robinson. It’s obvious that she holds much less leverage on Dr. Rowley than that which he held on Patrick Manning, given the thrashing she received in the PNM’s internal elections, but nevertheless her presence would surely keep the political leader ‘on his toes’. She encapsulates the dissenting elements of the party, and any form of turbulence (which is normal in politics) would result in greater support for Beckles-Robinson.
The removal of Donna Cox and NiLeung Hypolite however, should not be cause for extreme concern for ‘PNMites’. It’s simply a move by Dr. Rowley to reward his long serving allies with two safe PNM seats. History has shown that the PNM usually takes care of its own. However, to the extent that this is true depends on one’s allegiance to the current party leader at the particular point in time. A hierarchy is therefore generated depending on allegiance. And Fitzgerald Hinds being granted the opportunity to represent Laventille West over NiLeung Hipolite is a case in point.
But generally-speaking, it is safe to say that the PNM takes care of its own. Even though Dr. Rowley challenged Manning in 96’, he was still given a cabinet post in the next PNM government due to his seniority in the party. Even Fitzgerald Hinds, Dr. Rowley’s then partner-in- attempted mutiny was given a post within a Ministry.
On another note however, it seems almost impossible for anyone to usurp Dr. Rowley as political leader of the PNM in the near future. He appears to have an almost airtight inner circle of above average talent - Faris Al Rawi being just one example. Nevertheless, the internal politics of the PNM would be on public display in the upcoming vote on the motion of no-confidence brought against the Opposition leader in Parliament.
As for a post-Rowley PNM, any indulgence into such would only be speculation. But within Rowley’s own inner circle there are future outstanding political talents like Faris Al Rawi and even Fitzgerald Hinds who could also prove as viable successors; but the way T&T politics is built, most leaders hold on until some scandal forces them to relinquish power. And unfortunately, nothing more or less is expected of Dr. Rowley.
Mikhail E.D. Byng