ENDORSING CARMONA: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar speaks at yesterday's meeting of the Electoral College in the Parliament Chamber. At right is Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal.

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STADIUM SWEAR-IN

President-elect Carmona chooses public venue for inauguration

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona is a man of the people.

Carmona, who was elected yesterday by the Electoral College as President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, will take his oath of office at a public ceremony at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on March 18 at 4 p.m.

Outgoing President George Maxwell Richard also took the oath for his second term of office as President at the Hasely Crawford Stadium after his re-election in 2008.

Sources said the President-elect has expressed a desire to hold the inauguration at a venue where the widest possible cross-section of the population can participate in some way.

The legitimatisation of Carmona's status as the next Chief Citizen began yesterday in the hallowed chamber of the Parliament when the Electoral College unanimously confirmed his nomination for the highest office in the land.

Unlike any other previous sitting of the Electoral College, yesterday's meeting began appropriately with the National Anthem, signifying that it was a national occasion. House Speaker Wade Mark, in his capacity as chairman of the Electoral College, gave details of the constitutional requirements of the event.

And was expected, it took just five minutes after the sitting of the Electoral College began for Mark to "hereby declare Mr Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, President-elect of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago".

There was deskthumping from Government, Opposition (with the exception of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley and Chief Whip Marlene McDonald) and Independent benches as everyone seemed satisfied with the choice of the apparent politically neutral Carmona to become the country's next and fifth President.

Carmona turns 60 in three weeks time on March 7 .

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, whose name led the list of 12 elected MPs who signed the nomination paper in support of Carmona's candidacy, spoke of the President-elect as a man of the people.

Carmona, who would be our second mas-playing President, had won a Calypso King Competition in Jamaica (as a student) and many of the Southern folk may remember that even once faced the daunting Skinner Park crowd at the Calypso Monarch semi-finals, she said.

She also noted that this man, "who is on equal with the highest echelons of our land, still rubbed shoulders with the ordinary folk on his regular journeys on the water taxi to and from San Fernando or joining hands with fellow parishioners at services at Assumption Church, Maraval, and at La Divina Pastora Church in Siparia on Sunday mornings".

The Prime Minister extolled his virtues as a family man, helping his children with their homework. She spoke of his "sense of patriotism" in giving up an appointment to be a judge at the International Court of Justice in the Hague to become President; and his deep spiritual convictions as a devout Roman Catholic, christened Thomas Aquinas after two exalted patron saints.

"President-Elect Carmona represents all this is good and noble in our beautiful Trinidad and Tobago," Persad-Bissessar stated. "He comes out of the bosom of and remains rooted in Trinidad and Tobago, equipped with a distinguished academic and legal career spanning over three decades."

There was no corresponding statement from Rowley, who opted not to use the opportunity provided to speak on behalf of his party on the election, because he did not want to submit his text in advance to the chairman of the Electoral College for vetting as was required.

Government leader Dr Roodal Moonilal said Rowley's decision showed a lack of statesmanship, while Local Government Minister Suruj Rambachan said it showed Rowley's deficiency as a leader.

Moonilal said it was a shame and a blemish on the Opposition that it could not add its voice to the public record (of Hansard) giving support to Carmona's election. "The meeting of an Electoral College is a sacred and rare occasion and part of the protocol is to have those wishing to speak submit their text in advance. We thought it was really poor that the Opposition Leader showed no respect for the sanctity of the event..and he did not prepare a text and have it duly submitted (to the Chairman for vetting). I wonder whether it is not a case of sheer laziness in that it (the preparation of the text) required some work," Moonilal said, adding that the Prime Minister had prepared her statement over the Carnival holidays.

Rambachan said he felt good to be part of an occasion which would go down in the annals of history. "It was a sombre occasion, which had a good dignity...But I am disappointed that the Opposition Leader chose not to speak. I think he lost the opportunity to show unity in the appointment of a most important position...and his action of withdrawal signalled division, although he proclaimed he was for consensus and collaboration. If as a leader you refuse to follow the rules, then you are setting a bad example for the children of the nation, you are disqualifying yourselves from positions that are the highest in the land," Rambachan said.

"It is an historic occasion, we are getting another good President. We are a lucky country!", Independent Senator Corinne Baptiste-McKnight said when asked her thoughts on yesterday's events.

Dr Victor Wheeler, independent senator, said he was very pleased that the President was elected unanimously, "without any fuss".

"It is a sign of good things to come", he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, who had at one time had the support of the Congress of the People as a potential candidate for the presidency, said it was a sombre occasion. "I think it is most appropriate that we can come together as a nation and agree on someone who would be our President and I myself feel very pleased about the appointment," he said.

Missing from the chamber for the event was San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning (who is on leave of absence due to illness) and Timothy Hamel-Smith (who is acting as President of the country in the absence of the incumbent George Maxwell Richards).

Both the Prime Minister and Mark on behalf of the Electoral College thanked the outgoing President for his service. Mark said that for ten years now the stability of our democracy had been bolstered by the leadership of Richards "whose tenure in office guided us through important periods in the evolution and growth of our Republic."

"We, the Members of this Electoral College would like to express our appreciation for his Excellency's warmth of spirit, strength of character and unwavering devotion to this country," Mark stated. He wished Richards a "happy and comfortable retirement".

Persad-Bissessar said: "I again pay public tribute to our outgoing President..who served us faithfully, with honour and dignity."

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