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By Miranda La Rose Thursday, February 6 2014

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Pennelope Beckles-Robinson, Lady Vice Chairman of the People’s National Movement (PNM), will challenge Dr Keith Rowley for the post of political leader of the country’s oldest party.

Rowley is the party and Opposition Leader and will seek a second term when the party’s internal elections are held on May 18.

PNM Arima constituency representative Barbara Ryan told Newsday yesterday that Beckles- Robinson confirmed she will vie for the post at an executive meeting held on Tuesday evening at the PNM constituency office, Guanapo Street, Arima. Beckles-Robinson herself did not return calls to her cell phone or office.

Contrary to reports that less than half of the executive attended the meeting, Ryan said of the 22 members,16 were present.

Declaring her own support for Beckles-Robinson, Ryan said, “I have no ill-feeling towards Dr Rowley.”

Beckles-Robsinson is a former Arima MP and was recently removed by Rowley as an Opposition Senator.

While Arima has some 20 PNM party groups, Ryan said she expects the majority will endorse Beckles-Robinson’s candidacy, although individual party members will vote for whoever they think is best suited to lead the PNM.

Rowley and Beckles-Robinson are good candidates, she said and hopes that when campaigning gets underway, it will be amicable.

“My work is to see Arima return to the PNM,” she said and she thinks Beckles-Robinson can do so.

However, whoever is elected to head the party, she said Arima party groups will work with him or her to return governance of the country to the PNM. Beckles-Robinson has recently spoken of the fact that a woman has never led the PNM in its 58 years of existence and felt that the time had come for a change.

She is expected to officially inform Rowley and PNM chairman Franklin Khan on her decision.

Beckles-Robinson’s father, Lincoln Beckles, a political activist, told Newsday yesterday that once she makes her intentions public, he will support her and hopes that Arima will do likewise.

Meanwhile, constituents of Arima said yesterday they were willing to back Beckles-Robinson against Rowley.

Of twelve men and women Newsday spoke with in the vicinity of Arima market and the Arima Fire Station, nine claimed they are eligible to vote in the party’s internal elections. They said they will vote for Beckles-Robinson. Ten of them said they will vote for her in a general election if she is a prime ministerial candidate.

David Garcia, craftsman, of Railway Street, said he does not think Rowley should continue as political leader because his attitude has been one of “arrogance and selfishness” since he assumed office.

Beckles-Robinson, he said, has been in the game a long time and should have been further ahead, but was pushed behind by the men in the party.

Former PNM leader and prime minister Patrick Manning rejected Beckles-Robinson as a returning candidate for the Arima seat for the 2010 general election which the party lost to the People’s Partnership. The seat was won by pastor Rodger Samuel of the Congress of the People (COP).

Almost everyone was critical of the representation they receive from Samuel.

Nikita Cummings of St Joseph Road said since the People’s Partnership took office the focus of development has been in south Trinidad and the East has been “getting the crumbs”.

Cummings said she voted for COP in the last general election because she wanted change. “COP has let us down and we not going back there,” she said. Expressing support for Beckles-Robinson, she said, “Now is the time for her to do something for Arima if she wants to. People will give her the chance.”

Victor Gentile, of Maturita, said he will support Beckles-Robinson against Rowley, but he would like to see younger candidates entering the fray. “Too many of the current politicians are getting on in age and are suffering from health issues and cannot reach out to constituents on the ground,” he said.

Nigel Noel, of Santa Rosa, who was most critical, said both Rowley and Beckles-Robinson have proved to be disappointing because they have let the people down in their constituencies.

“You only see them when it is elections time, he said, “and that is not impressive.”

One of Beckles-Robinson’s downfall, he said, “is her lack of aggression. She cannot allow the men to ride rough-shod over her. They have pushed her out of office on more than one occasion, and maybe this is the time for her to fight back and show them she has got what it takes.”

Beckles-Robinson, Noel said, has to change the political culture and meet with people on the ground, not only at election time.

“When politicians go up in office, they stay up. They don’t come down until they are voted out of office,” he said.

While Noel is not a party member or supporter, he said if he was he would vote for Beckles-Robinson against Rowley.

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