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PNM taking stock of itself
Public relations officer of the Opposition People’s National Movement Faris Al-Rawi is confident that if a general election is called tomorrow his party stands an excellent chance of being returned to office because of the hard work it has been doing since losing office on May 24, 2010. The lawyer is saying the party is not fazed by talk that the Movement for Social Justice, which last week jumped off the People’s Partnership ship, can act as the opposition since the PNM was voted into office to officially perform that role.
Q: Senator Al-Rawi, the PNM is 56 years strong, so why the need for a new PR campaign? What has gone wrong?
(At his upper St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, chambers where he took time out from a hectic round of meetings for this interview Thursday afternoon)
A: Far from anything having gone wrong. The PNM in its reflection and its resurgence mission, as stated by our leadership, has been taking stock of all aspects of its systems and one of them we have been looking at has been our communications—inside and outside of the party.
A broader thing that the PNM is doing is to demonstrate to the people of Trinidad and Tobago that the party is an institution that deserves their trust. We say that in appreciation of the fact that we lost the May 24, 2010 general election, having reduced our parliamentary majority from 26 to 12 seats, and in taking stock of the reasons that took us there, it is axiomatic that we have been looking at our communications.
What took the party there?
I think this would be my very personal statement as opposed to the party, and the simple fact is that the people had lost their faith that the PNM could deliver the situations which they wanted and in the context of the mass hype created by the UNC, and the PP as they eventually cobbled together, wild and reckless statements were offered by the UNC in particular.
Can you give us two examples of what you spoke of?
It was more an imagery that they created of profligacy and an imagery of corruption, so in creating an imagery of those creations, none of which can be seriously demonstrated today. I am not saying the PNM did not find itself with some difficult projects to defend, for example the Toruba Stadium at the very least.
One of these wild and reckless statements was the constant banter of the PNM spending $300 billion in the last ten years, which has not been proven, when they have spent more than $115 billion in the first two years of their stewardship. With the UNC in power, they have come to realise the PNM certainly was not as profligate as portrayed during the campaign and this is easily proved.
Senator, is it a PNM strategy to constantly refer to the People’s Partnership as the UNC government?
Far from it. It is a reflection of the fact there is no political party registered at the Elections and Boundaries Commission by the name of the People’s Partnership, so if they had the courage to register such a party, God bless them, but I don’t think they have that courage. It is a hurriedly cobbled group thinly veiled as the PP…a UNC-dominated enterprise to the exclusion of all others.
What about the contribution of former prime minister Patrick Manning to the defeat of the PNM?
Given the history of the PNM and blessed with a particular discipline structure, it became fair to say Mr Manning began to personify the PNM, and so the vote appeared to be resentment reflective of Mr Manning.
Senator, is the net result of the PNM’s new PR campaign the regaining of power in the next general election?
We don’t view the election as the only marker for success. We think the mission started from May 26, 2010, and that there was a recognition that people did not want to hear what you had to say but from our work over the last two years, there is a clear indication that the people are willing to hear at this time what the official opposition has to offer. We welcome this golden opportunity to show them what we can do and what we can achieve as the premier political party in the country.
What makes you or the PNM feel that with the immediate past sins of the PNM still fresh in people’s mind, especially Mr Manning’s leadership style, that they are willing to listen to the party today?
My personal view is that people would want to hear for a number of reasons: we have been in this political dance for 56 years and if you were to look at our track record over that time we have had more successes than bruises.
Oh, bruises, I like that term.
Yes. And when we were bruised we learnt very valuable lessons. One of them is that the retooling of your policies has to be one of your most serious challenges. That’s where this UNC government has failed. No policy whatsoever, and more particularly, even if they could say what they have cobbled together is their policy, they still cannot deliver positive results, even though it would be fair to say that Trinidad and Tobago suffered exogenic shocks, in so far as there is a global climate of economic difficulties.
Perhaps it is fortuitous that the governor of the Central Bank is issuing a $50 note because it is almost synonymous with a mechanism to deal with excess liquidity in the system.
Senator, it is interesting if not intriguing that you should remind us that the PNM is the official opposition in Trinidad and Tobago. Were you prompted to put this on the record in the view of comments made by certain political commentators that the MSJ could replace the PNM as the country’s loyal opposition?
Not at all. I used the word deliberately because as members of Parliament, the Upper House and the Lower House, we are being paid by the taxpayers to perform the role of opposition...that’s why I used the word. So we in the PNM are not at all troubled by statements, such as we ought to be mindful of the MSJ’s presence, because the PNM has a long history of a sound relationship with the labour movement in the past and in the present.
We have always had top labour leaders in this party and I just have to refer to only one of them who is with us at this time—Jennifer Baptiste-Primus. She has been president of the Public Service Association and she is well known for her strong leadership qualities.
Are you speaking from a point of political bravado or is the PNM still genuinely enjoying the support of some labour leaders today?
Mr Raphael, the UNC-dominated government is engaged to a large extent in the politics of distraction and they are mischievously throwing out ‘watch out for the MSJ’ but this is a distraction of folly because...
Distraction of folly?
Yes. Because they are really trying to shunt the damage caused by losing the MSJ for the reasons stated by that organisation. It is the UNC’s problem when someone of its own, a member of the Partnership, comes out and speaks about nepotism, corruption and poor governance. This has to have a lot of credibility because while it is expected that the PNM, as the opposition party, would make those observations wherever we see them, this came from the belly of the PP.
Senator Al-Rawi, surely you cannot discount what the Prime Minister has termed as reckless, vacuous and unreasonable, these charges made by the MSJ on the eve of their departure from the government?
Well, I think that is a weak and disingenuous rebuttal on the part of the Prime Minister. I note that Mr Abdulah, when he stated the MSJ was not participating in the UNC-dominated administration’s two-year anniversary party, he was very cordial in what he had to say—that it was not a time to celebrate. At the celebrations, the Prime Minister said some people did not want them to celebrate and in the same breath said “David, we love you.”
If an election is called today, Senator, what do you think would be the PNM’s chances of regaining office?
Right now the country is disillusioned with this government, which has betrayed the opportunity provided to it by the people and in those circumstances, coupled with the PNM’s hard work in relation to policy and which we will be delivering at our annual convention this year, I feel confident that we stand as good a chance of returning to the government. But I wish that to be not only on the basis that the UNC is not delivering good governance but that the people trust us to once again deliver a caring government.
How do you see that trust being restored so soon after that crushing defeat in 2010?
The undeniably hard work we have been doing since our loss of office, including holding consultations with the citizens and organisations across the board, we are confident that these would be the mechanisms to thrust us into that zone...to convince people we can deliver on what we say.
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