Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar cannot "unyoke" herself from the statements made by her party chairman and National Security Minister Jack Warner that Tobagonians voted on the basis of "tribal instincts" and race in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.
So said Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley at a news conference at Balisier House on Thursday night. "The Prime Minister cannot run nor hide from the definitive position of the chairman of her party. The chairman speaks for the party," he said.
In apparent contrast to Warner, Persad-Bissessar said the People's National Movement (PNM) victory had nothing to do with race, but fear (though she did not say fear of what).
"Since Mr Warner has appointed himself fermenter of racial division in Trinidad and Tobago, and defender of the East Indian population and insulter of Tobagonians, I simply want to point out to all the people of Trinidad and Tobago who might have been hearing his foolishness ... we are the only political party who have contested every seat in Tobago on every occasion, contested every seat in the Assembly and when we found a person of East Indian heritage to be the best person to represent the PNM in the THA, that person was selected.
"We are the only political party who has ever put up an East Indian candidate for a THA election," Rowley said.
That person was Ranijt Singh who ran for the PNM in Canaan/ Bon Accord, he said, adding that it was done without fanfare or stereotyping.
"He was just another Tobagonian who was PNM standard-bearer long before Jack Warner entered the political landscape to pollute it," Rowley stated.
Rowley said he had stopped listening to Government ministers and did not pay attention to what Government ministers say anymore, "especially the ones who talk the most and who seem to be the most offensive".
He said the Minister of National Security should be the last person to call out anybody in this country about any standard "because he represents everything that is bad in this country and everything that is bad about this Government and therefore anything he had to say is of no consequence to me or to the party I lead".
Rowley said the country had come out of a bruising campaign in Tobago.
"The party competed against the background of its fundamental principles and those are the principles we stand with in any battle. We are the only party in this country for the last 56 years who could claim to have put itself before the electorate in every corner of the country," he said.
He said after Hilton Sandy made his comment that the ship from Calcutta was coming to Tobago if its people did not vote for the PNM, the party took steps to ensure that the statements formed no part of its dialogue, or campaign.
"We hold people responsible in this party at the individual level to subscribe to and uphold the principles of our party. And that is why it was so easy for us to have a response at the level of the party and at the level of the individual," he said.
He referred to the fact that there was a "public stepping down" (Sandy was not reappointed THA Deputy Chief Secretary) and reiterated that the behaviour of Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) member Dr Indira Rampersad who said the Sandy comment was not an error but was part of a carefully thought-out PNM strategy, had put a serious blot on her paper.
"And if we are to protect institutions in this country, watch them grow from strength to strength, have them respected so that they can function in the way that they are supposed to function to benefit us, people who are appointed to those positions are to be made to live up to those standards, otherwise we will become a laughing stock," he said.
Asked what he expected of the chairman of the EOC, John La Guerre, Rowley said the PNM expected that Rampersad would not be allowed to adjudicate on the complaint arising out of Sandy's statements which is currently before the EOC.
"She has ruled and she has expressed her ruling publicly. But she was also prepared to implicate other people in a way that is quite unacceptable and we in the PNM would protect ourselves from misrepresentation and revisionism," he said. See Page 5