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PNM race is on

Saturday, March 15 2014

THE race for control of the Balisier is on!

The election for several posts including that of Political Leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM) will take place on May 18 to see which executive will take the party into the 2015 General Elections. A total of 34 candidates have expressed confidence in winning the 15 coveted positions up for grabs.

While incumbent Political Leader Dr Keith Rowley has fielded a full slate to contest the internal election, his challenger Pennelope Beckles-Robinson has fielded a slate of 12, minus candidates for treasurer, public relations officer and labour relations officer. With the exception of former senator Danny Montano who is contesting the position of Chairman on Beckles-Robinson’s team the others are lesser known on the national scale, but well-known within the party.

Rowley arrived promptly at 11 am yesterday to the tune of, “When the Saints go Marching In” played by a rhythm section and a throng of mainly women supporters to officially declare his nomination at Balisier House, Port-of-Spain.

Beckles-Robinson arrived ten minutes before 1 pm to chants of, “We want Penny! We want Penny!” from a smaller but very noisy band of supporters. The atmosphere throughout the day was one of excitement mixed with light banter among supporters of the opposing slates.

In a display of diplomacy, some PNM members dressed in Rowley’s T-shirts even applauded Beckles-Robinson when she arrived, prompting a diehard Rowley supporter to say: “Look at them traitors!”

Expressing confidence in victory Rowley said, “the record of my team is such that unless another team comes with a superior record and superior potential, I am confident our party will support the best team.”

Noting that all the positions were being contested, he said “the party membership has to get involved.” The election, which involves two slates and seven independent candidates, Rowley said, is turning out to be a great mobiliser for a vibrant political party. Asked whether her team will support independent candidates for positions her slate will not contest, Beckles-Robinson said, “The team has not taken a decision to support any independent candidate. We felt that whoever wins in those positions, we will support.”

Questioned about her support base from among PNM MPs, she said when the campaign gets into high gear, “you’ll see who they are.” Among those supporting Team Penny is Laventille West MP Nileung Hypolite.

Commenting on Port-of-Spain South MP and Opposition Chief Whip Marlene McDonald’s view that she is unsuitable to lead the PNM, Beckles-Robinson said, “Ms McDonald has to realise she has only one vote to give. She has a right to criticise. She has a right to chose whoever she thinks is capable and competent. But she must remember we are not in the delegate system.”

On McDonald questioning her leadership within the Women’s League, Beckles-Robinson said, “ask her how many meetings of the League, she has attended.”

McDonald, she said, “attended one meeting to conduct a lecture at my request. Other than that we have never seen her. So she is not in a position to comment at all on how the Women’s League functions.”

On McDonald’s questioning her parliamentary representation, Beckles-Robinson said, “Talk is cheap!” She suggested McDonald question her own parliamentary representation as that area which she (McDonald) represents remains severely underdeveloped over successive governments including the PNM.

Declaring that Rowley’s campaign is one of intimidation, she said, “Just listen to how Ms McDonald is speaking on the platform. If you go to any of the constituencies, they will tell you that is how they have been operating because they just don’t understand what democracy is about.”

The fact is, Beckles-Robinson said, “they are afraid of change and the consequences of change. They need to wake up to the fact that the membership of the party wants change and change will take place on May 18.”

Asked what she will do if she loses the elections, Beckles-Robinson said that in 2010 she was denied the right to run for Arima and La Horquetta constituencies. She was removed from the senate in 1998 and again in 2013. “I have let down my bucket in the People’s National Movement. I will remain a member of the PNM. I have absolutely no reason at all whatever the outcome to consider being a member of any other political party.”

Independent candidate and incumbent Treasurer, Mariano Browne said he was asked to join one side and refused. He was not asked by the other side and he did not express a desire to contest as part of a slate. However, he said he chose not to take sides because whoever is elected political leader will have to work with everyone and he hopes to bridge that divide. The post of treasurer on Rowley’s slate is being contested by Port-of-Spain Mayor Raymond Tim Kee.

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