THE arrival of former United National Congress (UNC) chairman Jack Warner ten minutes into her campaign speech on Friday night for the Chaguanas West by-election did not seem to faze Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, as she pleaded for the constituency’s support for its by-election candidate, Khadijah Ameen.
Ameen, tipped since last week to contest the UNC stronghold, following the resignation of Warner in April as MP was on Friday night officially announced as the chosen one for the July 29 by-election.
At the public meeting at Pepper Sauce Junction in Endeavour, Chaguanas, Justice Minister Christlyn Moore earlier greeted supporters by saying they were all present to “endorse” Ameen.
This was greeted by uproarious approval from the crowd.
Persad-Bissessar, prior to announcing Ameen, said the party had been forced to call an election it had not planned on and was therefore counting on the support of the constituency, as the Chaguanas West by-election could determine whether the party stays in government past 2015 — the due date of the next general election.
Persad-Bissessar sought to instil fear into the electoral district that should the UNC lose to the People’s National Movement, whose candidate is 24-year-old Avinash Singh, it would again face years of neglect and abuse.
Persad-Bissessar resurrected the spectre of Caroni (1975) Ltd, which was shut down in 2003 under the PNM and then prime minister Patrick Manning.
“Their political spite is a threat to the peace and stability of our country,” she said.
“We were in Opposition for a long time and you know how much you tried to get things done.
“But you had a spiteful PNM government that boasted that it would do things only for its own people. I am not making that up. My predecessor said when he was in Opposition, he said the mistake he made in his first administration was that he didn’t do enough for his people.”
She added: “And so as soon as he became Prime Minister again, in one spiteful political move he demonstrated that he would keep that promise. So he shut down your sugar company and put thousands of people out of work. He destroyed the hopes of an entire community. Nearly ten thousand people worked for the company, each of them had children and families to feed. Thousands of cane farmers were thrown out of work. All the businesses in the communities around the sugar estates were in a tailspin. Most business had to close.”
Persad-Bissessar said the PNM’s spite was based on where the people lived and warned that it would happen again.
As she continued to tout her government, Persad-Bissessar said the PNM was at this time “angry” to see that development — such as schools and hospitals — were being developed in rural areas that were not PNM strongholds.
“But Port of Spain alone is not Trinidad and Tobago,” she said, stating again that the results of July 29 could determine the People’s Partnership’s fate at the 2015 polls.
“The challenge you will confront in the days and weeks ahead is who is best able to take Chaguanas West forward and keep it in government,” she said.
“I will tell you tonight, my sisters and brothers. Only the UNC candidate can achieve that goal and that is why you must put aside all other loyalties and friendships and choose the UNC.”
Turning on PNM candidate Avinash Singh, a farmer who, earlier in the night had been called a “squatter” by Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, Persad-Bissessar said:
“The PNM has chosen one of your children from Felicity to fight against your party. He has made the wrong choice in standing as a soldier for the PNM.
“I ask you tonight to show him his error and vote against him.
“Instead of standing to fight for what is right and what is best for Chaguanas West and Trinidad and Tobago he chose the side of oppression and neglect.
“He embraced those who subjected you and him as well to the worst form of abuse and discrimination. And that is why you have to fight against him; you have to show him the power of the righteous.”
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley did not escape either.
“The abuse of power is also the hallmark of the new leader of the PNM. In three years we have seen Dr Rowley abuse his privilege in Parliament, concocting and fabricating stories to try to overthrow your government, making up lies about our AG, about our government and its officials, holding secret meetings and boasting that he did nothing wrong,” Persad-Bissessar said.
Getting to the announcement of Ameen as the chosen candidate, Persad-Bissessar thanked all the others who screened for the position — Satyanand Mahabir, Mantab Mohammed, Hayman Moonian, Jack Warner, Harridath Maharaj, Manohar Ramsaran and Manohar Singh.
“We had to decide who was best to meet all our requirements,” Persad-Bissessar said “Sisters and brothers, I am proud to announce that with your support, Ms Khadijah Ameen is going to be your next MP for Chaguanas West.”
Warner, who spoke briefly with the media after the PM’s statement, said he will be meeting with his support groups to discuss a way forward.
He was surrounded by a small group of supporters who braved the rain to stay with him throughout the meeting.
Also present on Friday night was Manohar Ramsaran, a former MP under the UNC government and then Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday.
Also speaking was Congress of the People (COP) leader Prakash Ramadhar, who also endorsed Ameen.