Former party stalwart’s son should be booted out

The People’s National Movement (PNM) in Trinidad and Tobago, the party of which Dr. Eric Williams was the primary founding figure, is generally referred to as drawing most of its support from among Afro-Trinidadians. But although such core support has always come from this sector, it clearly wasn’t Williams’ intent, when crafting the PNM model for its 1956 launch, to create an “African people’s party.” The very first roster of winning PNM candidates, from the election in ’56 that allowed the party to form its first government, was reflective of a cosmopolitan mix of which Williams would frequently boast. Although Afro-Trinidadians formed the largest bloc, the lineup included individuals of Indo-Trinidadian, Chinese and Caucasian stock. One of the two Caucasians who had become a big crowd favorite in those early days of the party seeking to make its mark in the country’s political history, was Gerard Montano.

Years later, Montano would become a sacrificial lamb when Williams, in the face of the so-called Black Power unrest gripping the country as the 70s dawned, dispatched both Montano and fellow Caucasian John O’Halloran from the cabinet, in what was evidently a placating gesture. I have remained unconvinced of there having been true justification for that move, tending to see it more as a Williams overreaction than a response prevailing circumstances dictated. Whether in the next politically active Montano generation is to be found an indication of lingering anger over Williams’ offering up Gerard back then is speculative. But two Montano sons who’ve followed their father as jousters in the political arena, Robin and Danny, have given different signals, as far as loyalty to the party Williams founded.

Robin Montano, whose politics has often had somewhat of a loose-cannon look, has shown no desire to be aligned with the PNM, quite the contrary in fact. Party affiliation-wise, brother Danny walked the PNM path of his late father and served in cabinet during Patrick Manning’s run as prime minister. But Danny Montano has lately been in the news in a manner that rightly should terminate his tenure in the PNM camp.

The political temperature in Trinidad and Tobago today is elevated, and figures to be even more so in upcoming months. Elections are due by May, 2015, when the government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will have completed its five-year term. There is widespread expectation that whenever that election is called, the Bissessar government is likely to be turned out of office, following an accumulation of abuses of power that has at times looked contemptuous in its brazen arrogance. In the midst of this sizzling narrative is scheduled, in a few days, the PNM’s internal election, which for the first time will be conducted via a one-person-one-vote system introduced by current leader Dr. Keith Rowley, as opposed to the delegate bloc voting heretofore in place.

Dr. Rowley is being challenged for the PNM leadership post (improbably, some believe) by Penny Beckles-Robinson, a former senator and member of cabinet. Montano, for whatever reasons, has linked up with Beckles-Robinson in her bid to become party leader, which is all perfectly in order. The walk on the wild side that should earn Montano his dishonorable discharge is recent comment he made, reported in the press, that the people of Trinidad and Tobago should not vote for a PNM of which Rowley is leader. It would be wimpish beyond belief for the party leadership to countenance such in-your-face disloyalty as Montano demonstrated in his venting, obviously for public consumption. And it certainly begs a revisiting of the question about lingering feelings of who-knows-what arising from Gerard Montano’s being thrown under the bus decades ago.

For sure, opposition to Rowley as party leader, such as it is, would seem to stem from some visceral dislike, rather than his track record since being voted into the position in 2010, following the last (truncated) Manning stint as prime minister that left the PNM quite demoralized. Apart from the above-referenced opening up of the election process within the party and other organizational reforms, Rowley led the party to three victories in elections held last year and, for the most part, seems to have acquitted himself well as Leader of the Opposition. Yet, there are those who consider Rowley’s even more significant contribution to have been his having the guts to stand alone among the PNM brass in protesting Manning’s pattern of out-of-control stewardship of party and country, preceding his premature calling of the general elections four years ago. For the party faithful, the leadership question will be soon gone as an issue.

But first things first. Rowley and the PNM executive should forthwith address that unacceptably bilious utterance from Montano. The party’s general secretary was quoted in the media commenting that if Montano wanted to join the United National Congress (Bissessar’s party), he should go ahead and do so. It seems here that, rather than any show of interest in which party Montano is or isn’t looking to join, the PNM high command should be focused on appropriately responding to this guy’s open display of hostility and disrespect for a party to which he allegedly belongs. Any formal party response different from a “Get lost!” missive to the perpetrator would make no sense.

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