Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Today's editorial in the Trinidad Express is a surprisingly congratulatory look at Patrick Manning's political career. The PNM's success in last week's elections, the Express argues, should be seen as a personal triumph for Manning, suggesting he deserves more political credit than anyone's given him so far.

Someone down at Express House must have been in a particularly generous, misty-moisty mood yesterday. The results of these latest elections have almost nothing to do with Manning himself. The PNM could have chosen any one of its members at random to stand as political leader & still have won. (In some safe PNM constituencies a stray pothound could win a seat, if there were a balisier tied round its neck.) In the context of T&T's recent electoral history, 20-16 for the PNM looks like a landslide, but the elections were decided by a mere 1,200 votes in three marginal constituencies, as the statisticians have not tired of reminding us. True, the PNM won 25,000 more votes this time than in last year's elections, but this does not translate to any significant dent in the UNC's loyal voter base. Manning's anti-UNC-corruption campaign may have influenced a few thousand people to vote this year instead of staying home like last year, but at the end of the day, as Lloyd Best keeps saying, PNM supporters (& UNC supporters) vote for their party simply because they have no credible alternative.

Manning remains a spectacularly inept politician — look at the mess he's made of appointing a new Cabinet — with an absurdly inflated sense of self-importance. I won't even rehearse the various well-known bunglings of his first term in office a decade ago. But just think back over the last year of his "selected" government — his blatantly nepotistic Cabinet, his two abortive attempts to summon Parliament, his hugely misjudged cosying up to Abu Bakr on the eve of the elections. Does this look like a man who knows what he's doing? Manning, as the Express points out, became political leader of the PNM after the 1986 elections simply because he was the only conceivable option of the three PNM MPs who survived the NAR avalanche. He's held on to his leadership only because in T&T our political parties have no tradition of ridding themselves of useless leaders. Manning's got the maximum leadership for life. And it has nothing to do with political skill. Last week's elections were not a meaningful triumph for Manning, or for the PNM; they were a triumph for T&T's absurd, deluded but apparently still flourishing political system.

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