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New era in T and T politics

Rickey Singh

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WITH LAST week’s change OF governmentin Port-of-Spain has come the end of an era in the politics of the People’s National Movement (PNM), as influenced or dominated by Patrick Manning.Manning has been its longest serving leader since the death of the party’s iconic founder, and “bossman” for over a quarter century, Eric Williams, by whomhe was regarded as a protégé. And Manning has been a stalwart in PNM politics for the past 40 years, in and out of government.His expected resignation on Thursday,a day after the historic swearing-in of Kamla Persad-Bissessar as Trinidad and Tobago’s first woman prime minister, was another revelation of the vicissitudes of party politics, the power and sweetness it brings with control of government, and the bitterness and humiliation resulting from theverdict of an electorate. ResignationOne day you are virtual el supremo of all you command as leader of a major party and head of government; on another the maximum leader hurriedly resigns and finds himself being booed by once fawning PNM supporters, as elements of the security force rush to protect him.Such was the scenario and experience for the 64-year-old Manning at Balisier House – PNM headquarters – on Thursday when the former prime minister wasted no time in quitting the leadership.He clearly had no alternative and wisely accepted personal blame for the party’s humiliating defeat at last Monday’s general election at which the fledgling People’s Partnership coalitionof Persad-Bissessar, scored a shock victory with a whopping 29-12 majority for the 41-seat Houseof Representatives. As Manning was shutting himself in quietlyat his private home – away from all the glamour and glory he had been accustomed to for some nine years, Persad-Bissessar, the woman he had openly ridiculed during the election campaign of being able to win a Miss Amity contest but never succeed to be prime minister, was busily engaged shaping her first cabinet with some expected and surprising portfolio choices, including a retired brigadierof the Trinidad andTobago Defence Forceas security minister.Not surprisingly, she did not invite to her oath-taking ceremony as prime minister the politician she had defeated last January for leadership of the United National Congress (UNC) – Basdeo Panday, founder, and leader until then, and the crafty politician she had repeatedly hailed as her “political guru”.When the ninth parliament of Trinidad and Tobago was dissolved by President George Maxwell Richards on April 8 for last Monday’s general election, the PNM held 26 of the 41 seats to the UNC’s 15. PNM scenarioBy then the popularity of Persad-Bissessar was already very much on the ascendancy – partywise and nationally. And Panday, the once lionised political leader of the UNC’s mass base, knew his time had come to ride into the proverbial sunsetFor the PNM, the anger, and even tears, will not disappear overnight; but the process of overcoming the humiliation of the extent of the punishing electoral verdict has already begun with passionate moves to have as the party’s new leader Dr Keith Rowley, the politician who hadonce dared to challenge Manning for leadership and lost.Following his sacking from Manning’s cabinetin 2008, Rowley was to remain a thorn in theside of the prime minister and PNM leader as he pointed to deep-rooted public corruption, and challenged fiscal and economic policies.Having been endorsed to fill the space so quickly vacated by Manning – partly on demand – as temporary leader, Rowley has also been identified by the party’s general council to be its opposition leader in parliament. The new tenth parliament is scheduled to have its ceremonial opening on June 14.One week later a special convention of the PNM is scheduled to be held to choose a new leader. There is hardlyany doubt that the overwhelming choice will be Keith Rowley.It will indeed be a most significant moment in the parliamentary history of Trinidad and Tobago when the woman who had convincingly defeated Panday at internal party elections, and later wrote her name into history as the country’s first female prime minister, take the oath from the speaker of the tenth parliament, while Rowley is sworn in as opposition leader.Whether or not Manning chooses to remain in parliament as MP for San Fernando-East, the constituency he has been representing since he “put down” his own “bucket” there at age 24, he seems destined to join Panday, the old political battle axe, down memory lane.As they reflect on their many years of the high and low points in their political careers, Trinidad and Tobago will be moving steadily into a new political era under the respective leadershipof the People’s Partnership’s Kamla Persad-Bissessar) andthe PNM’s Keith Rowley.