It is encouraging and welcome news that former prime minister Patrick Manning has returned home after his extended stay abroad while he received treatment for the stroke he suffered early this year. However, even after six months of therapy, Mr Manning’s startlingly frail appearance when he landed at Piarco was unmissable. With his right arm in a sling presumably to keep it from falling at his side, his left arm holding a supportive cane and him being buttressed with loving care by Mrs Manning, the effects of what has been described as a “mild stroke” have obviously had a serious impact on his health. There were more revelations at his return. The large and exuberant welcome that Mr Manning received appears to have been organised by a faction within the former ruling party which imagines that somehow Mr Manning can be returned to lead the PNM, with the ultimate goal of returning him and the party to govern T&T.
The ranks of the party faithful should, however, be under no delusion that the population as a whole would accept Mr Manning once more as a potential leader. The Manning administration was voted out of office largely because of the unacceptably arrogant style of governance of the former prime minister and the massive mismanagement and the allegations of corruption and waste of resources that overshadowed whatever good he did during his term in office. Those including the PNM MPs who were part of the spectacle at Piarco who harbour thoughts of a return to power for Mr Manning should wake up to the reality. Sadly, it appears that Mr Manning himself may be the driving force behind this ill-conceived attempt to present him as a leader in exile, waiting in the wings to make a triumphant return by popular acclaim. A welcome of the kind displayed at Piarco could not have been orchestrated without his agreement. The camping out at Piarco and the rallying around the disgraced leader evince the split in the PNM between those who still yearn for the glory days of Mr Manning and those who are determined that the party should move ahead, and who realise there must be no distractions from a single goal. That goal should be to transform the still battered and bloodied PNM into a party that can function as an effective parliamentary Opposition and convince the electorate that it is a viable alternative to the Government of the day. For the PNM to come back from that massive rout and to function as an effective Opposition, especially given its so greatly reduced parliamentary numbers, it must close ranks. Two years after the election defeat, it is shocking that it still has not done so.
The Piarco welcome and the trappings of the return of the “maximum leader” could not have happened at a worse time for the country or the PNM, as the People’s Partnership Government is left to move from one serious set of errors to another without a break in its stride. The messianic return is also indicative of an outdated belief in the cult of the leader that has no place in the politics of the 21st century. The present PNM leader, Dr Keith Rowley, has shown himself to be refreshingly immune to the temptation to encourage that kind of hero-worship. What is needed now is for the opposition party to demonstrate that it has the capacity to be a united, organised unit.
To continue to hope to reinstate Mr Manning is misguided and is not in the best interest of the party, the country or Mr Manning himself. His days in the driving seat are done.