The recent decision by the political leader of the PNM, Patrick
Manning, to use opinion polls that were personally requested
by him as a means of screening candidates for seats currently
held by PNM Members of Parliament, has caused considerable
Perhaps, the first sign of this was the decision by Ken Valley
to openly challenge his leader by submitting his nomination
papers to be screened for the Diego Martin Central seat, contrary
to the speculation that Valley will be denied the opportunity
to stand again as a PNM candidate.
It was interesting that the polls were leaked to the press,
and that Valley had done his own poll as well.
The use of opinion polls and counter opinion polls, as a means
of determining who should be the candidate, means that this
fight is likely to go all the way to the central executive
of the party.
If Manning has enough support there, he will get his way.
However, in doing so, he will be going where even Eric Williams
failed to go when he wanted to get rid of certain PNM incumbents
in the 1976 general election.
In that year, Williams found himself in a showdown with Carlton
Gomes, Brensley Barrow, Victor Campbell, Sham Mohammed and
Lionel Robinson (all of whom he had labelled as millstones
around his neck).
The constituency executives in the respective constituencies
stood up for their candidates, and Williams could not have
His response was to vow that he would not speak on their platforms
and he would not include them in his Cabinet.
He made good on both promises during the campaign and after
the election when the PNM had won.
All five won their seats and they were promptly left out of
The limit on the number of senators who could serve as ministers
had been removed in the Republican Constitution, which had
just come into effect, and he was able to redress any shortfalls
in the House of Representatives by appointing more senators
as ministers, as well as creating super ministers (eg John
Donaldson as Minister of National Security and Minister of
At the same time, Williams also made a public pronouncement
that no defeated candidate would be appointed as a senator.
This was in response to the defeat of both PNM Tobago candidates
who were ministers, namely Basil Pitt and Wilbert Winchester.
The constitutional changes that Manning would like to introduce
in the next Parliament require him to remove any MPs who are
likely to block his version of the executive presidency.
Additionally, he would need to have MPs who are personally
loyal to him, as opposed to being personally loyal to the
The reason for this is the fact that the brand of executive
presidency that has been put forward in the Ellis Clarke draft
constitution is a hybrid that eliminates the separation of
powers between the executive and the legislature and locates
executive and legislative power in the House of Representatives.
A party can be in power and it can change its president by
majority vote in the House of Representatives under the Ellis
There would no longer be any impartial arbiter called the
president to preside over the system because the Head of State
and the Head of Government would become one.
In other words, under the Ellis Clarke model, the executive
president would be no more than an elected MP who has the
support of a majority of MPs and who will vacate his seat
upon becoming the President.
However, the easiest way for Manning to become the executive
president will be by the use of transitional provisions in
the new constitution that will make the holder of the office
of Prime Minister become the new President.
At the same time, the office of President, as currently constituted,
will be abolished.
Nevertheless, Manning has argued publicly that the executive
presidency is a natural evolution from our current constitutional
That is debatable, as a presidential model is not necessarily
part of an evolutionary trend away from a parliamentary model.
Regardless of how one may wish to construe the debate, the
reality is that Manning has to make drastic changes in order
to take control of the MPs who will be elected for the PNM
after the general election.
He is confident that he will win, and many sitting MPs are
clearing the way for him. Those who are not clearing the way
are likely to be pushed out by the findings of his polls.
How the constituency executives handle this challenge will
be interesting, indeed.
The fact that Manning has changed the criteria for the selection
of PNM candidates from what was being used for constituencies
not controlled by the PNM is significant.
The playing field is not level; the goal posts have been moved
and the targets have been identified.
The uproar that this has created in the PNM will play itself
out in the selection of candidates.
The only difference between 1976 and now is that Williams
made sure to change the Constitution before he had the showdown
with his proverbial millstones.
Manning is yet to change the Constitution, and he needs his
new MPs to help him do that if he gets enough of them.
If some of the current PNM Members of Parliament are put up
as PNM candidates once again, then he will not be able to
get what he wants, because of the internal resistance.
For the PNM to be suddenly facing this turmoil, just months
away from a general election, could create a new dynamic in
the process that was not there before.
Will some party supporters become demotivated and demoralised
because of these challenges?
That is a risk that Manning seems prepared to take.