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Manning faces tough 2013

Hampered by ill health...

By Asha Javeed asha.javeed@trinidadexpress.com

WHEN it comes to titans in local politics- few figures loom large.

San Fernando East Member of Parliament Patrick Manning is one of them.

As this country's longest-serving Member of Parliament, he's served as Opposition Leader, political leader of the People's National Movement (PNM) and has had several turns as Prime Minister.

As a geologist Prime Minister, Manning's development strategy for Trinidad and Tobago was largely energy-based, but couched within developed-nation status of a Vision 2020 which he had for this country.

On January 23, 2012, Manning, whose decision to call early general elections in 2010 resulted in a massive defeat for the PNM at the polls, suffered a stroke at his Sumadh Gardens residence in Vistabella.

The news was cause for pause- whatever emotions Manning inspired as a political figure, his contribution to the country's growth was unquestioned.

With a political investment at the age of 24, Manning gained extensive knowledge of the country's economic history, having served as Minister of Energy as well as Minister of Information and Minister of Industry and Commerce.

And while his tenure ended as Prime Minister on two controversies- his support of former UDeCOTT executive chairman Calder Hart and his project manager position as it related to the church at Guanapo for spiritual adviser Juliana Pena, Manning remained committed to his profession of choice- politics. And had the suaveness to wear his power well.

Despite the aloof approach he took to politics when the PNM was shelved to the Opposition bench, he continued to represent San Fernando East, which he's done since 1971.

His statements in 2012 were short and judicious and made largely through the social media.

He withdrew two lawsuits which he had initiated challenging a decision of Parliament's Privileges Committee.

After he was found guilty by the committee for statements made on November 19, 2010, during the debate on the Interception of Communications legislation, Manning initiated legal action.

His comments concerned Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's private residence in Phillipine, South Trinidad.

The former prime minister had sought leave from the court to challenge Parliament's decision to suspend him and also sought to challenge the committee's decision to refuse his request to have his lawyer question witnesses who were before the committee.

But the stroke undeniably marked an end to persistent political rumours that he was planning a comeback within the PNM to oust political leader Dr Keith Rowley.

In politics and parliamentary debate, Manning's star easily eclipsed Rowley's for style and gamesmanship. And even after Rowley had assumed leadership of a visibly fractured PNM, he was unable to shake the long shadow cast by Manning.

But Manning's ailing health was a political windfall for Rowley to mould the PNM into his own.

Manning spent almost five months in the United States seeking therapy following the stroke. While he returned to a hero's welcome at Piarco International Airport, the PNM's political stocks under Rowley had increased amid corruption allegations in the People's Partnership and the Section 34 debacle.

He's been absent from Parliament for over a year, having last contributed on December 9, 2011 during debate of the Administration of Justice (Electronic Monitoring) Bill.

He has been given leniency by Speaker of the House Wade Mark. Mark has granted Manning leave of absence several times and often for three-month periods.

Manning has missed some 31 sittings of the House.

But Manning's political survival in 2013 will largely be hinged on whether he can represent his constituency in Parliament, as the grapes of political leadership of the PNM have now easily moved beyond his grasp.

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