• 27 Jan, 2023

Poll Complaints about PNM and UNC Leadership Selection Process

Poll Complaints about PNM and UNC Leadership Selection Process

Poll Complaints about PNM and UNC Leadership Selection Process

Voters are disillusioned with politics in the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and they also express dissatisfaction with the process of choosing leadership and executives of political parties.  The Prime Minister or Opposition Leader has enormous power giving little chance to challengers to their position. Almost everyone polled in a survey say intra-party democracy is sorely lacking in the two major parties and attribute it as a primary reason for the country being saddled with poor governance and weak parliamentary representation from both sides. The public is discontented with the ruling PNM but do not want the presently constituted opposition UNC as the alternative. The PNM will handily win re-election if a general election were called soon. These are some findings from an ongoing opinion poll being conducted by this writer for the North American Caribbean Teachers Association.   
 

On PNM internal party elections, the general feeling among those polled is that Dr. Keith Rowley will handily win re-election because of the advantages of incumbency. It is felt that the membership will not want to risk changing leader mid-term of the party being in government. But the public express concern about the security of the ballots during the multiple days of voting. Barring that caveat, respondents in the survey say that the electoral process to choose executives in the PNM is more open and democratic than in the UNC which held internal election earlier this year. The public is also of the view that unlike in the UNC, PNM leadership makes greater effort to incorporate party opponents and that challengers are not seen as enemies of the leader or party. However, the public feel  that the process in both parties is biased and unfair against challengers, and they decry the incumbent leader endorsing or running a slate of candidates against others.   
 

President-Ali-not-Summoned-to-Washington-Dr-Vishnu-Bisram
Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram

 

Unlike for the PNM, the public question the integrity and validity of the internal electoral process of the UNC. Party supporters and the public at large feel the integrity of the UNC internal elections held earlier this year was impugned and tainted and not a true reflection of the will of the members. Kamla Persaud Bissessar and her slate of candidates, according to UNC supporters, would have faced more opposition and a competitive contest if the electoral process was free and fair.   

 
Some of the complaints leveled against UNC’s internal electoral process: it is a farce, a fraud, a sham, a joke, a mockery of democracy, an unfair selection managed wholly and solely to make preferred contestants get elected. One of many persons interviewed aptly described the prevailing view of party members and supporters: “Whoever in charge of the party chooses executive with no one else, except those on the slate supporting the (incumbent) leader, having a chance to win in the system”. Allegations of acts of skullduggery were voiced about the UNC electoral process: the system is manipulated and designed to defeat challengers; the party election commission is a puppetry; electoral list of members or voters (emails, phone numbers, addresses) not shared with challengers; members are called and manipulated on how to vote or their names removed from the final list of voters. One critic of the process described it as similar to internal party elections in Cuba, North Korea, and China.   

  
Unlike for the UNC, few complaints are leveled about electioneering process in the PNM. The PNM’s internal election is described as being more democratic and in line with the process used to elect representatives of the country's parliament and local governments with the membership not manipulated on how to vote. The PNM election commission team seems unaligned with any candidate, provides access of the membership to all candidates, and carries out its work relatively professional without bias towards anyone.   

  
Based on the survey, supporters of both parties are crying for a more transparent, fair, democratic system to choose a leader and executives.  It is suggested that one way to address the flawed or deficient intra-party democratic process in T&T is to emulate the model utilized in the US, Canada, UK, and European countries where there are debates among candidates for leadership and a fair voting system by members. A primary electoral system is also recommended in the selection of nominees for elective office. To democratize the process, a suggestion is made for a law granting power and funding to the national elections commission or some other entity to conduct internal executive elections and primaries of political parties among their membership.   

Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr. Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a holder of multiple degrees in the natural sciences, social sciences, and education. He taught for over forty years in the US. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling globally to research and write about Indian communities.