Stay out of PNM business!
That is the message candidate for the PNM political leadership and former senator Pennelope Beckles has for Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
Beckles was responding to a question posed at a news conference at Balisier House, Port of Spain, yesterday about the support and endorsement she had received from people in opposition to the PNM.
“I suspect that you are speaking about Mr Anand Ramlogan (Attorney General) and Mr Jack Warner (interim leader of the Independent Liberal Party). Mr Anand Ramlogan seems to have gone over and above to say all these great things about me. He is not a member of the PNM. He cannot vote for me. And I wish to tell him to stay out of PNM business.”
Asked about the findings of a poll by Solution by Simulation which concluded that she was receiving support from ILP supporters and which seemed to raise doubts about how much of her momentum was coming from within the PNM, Beckles said: “If you are thinking of leading a country, your first step must be to win the leadership of your party. Having done that then you take the next step.”
She added that the ILP supporters, “in my humble view, would have probably been some (former) COP supporters, some disgruntled (former) UNC supporters, maybe even (former) PNM supporters and maybe some independent persons. At the end of the day, we (in the PNM) have maintained our base but the party has really not been growing in terms of attracting new members. Now that we have gone out on this membership drive...and sanitised the (membership) list, we would be in a better position to see if in truth and in fact we have attracted new members. But even as we attract new members the issue remains that when an election is called whether that membership converts into votes for the PNM particularly in the marginal seats,” she said.
In response to further questions, Beckles said the matter of her loyalty to the PNM had only become an issue after there was a clear possibility that she might be contesting the political leader position.
She said people even started to speak of her running as an ILP candidate (for the St Joseph by-election.)
“Why would I want to run as a candidate for the ILP? I am not even a member of ILP. I have had my challenges in the PNM. I was (fired) out of the Senate in 1998. I am out again in 2010. I was rejected for Arima and for La Horquetta/Maloney (in 2010). But I have never once used any of that as a basis for leaving the PNM...Because when you join a political organisation you understand that you do not have a God-given right to any particular position— to be the Member for Arima, or a Senator or a Minister,” she said.
She added that she has never believed that the positions she has held were given to her by anyone, but that she had worked for it.
“I understand that this is an election, the stakes are very high and I expect to hear all sorts of things. So those who said I offered myself to run for the ILP, when did that take place? They don’t have the evidence but they want to tarnish me because they feel that would destroy my chances...But the membership of the PNM is very literate. I have been around for a very long time and they understand that although I was removed from the Senate in 1998, I am here 16 years later and I have absolutely no reason to be interested in joining any other political party or to offer to serve in any other party,” Beckles said.
The PNM leader has always held the position of either Prime Minister or Opposition Leader, depending on whether the party was in or out of office.
Should Beckles win, it would be the first time that there would be a splitting of the constitutional posts and political post.
Asked about this, she anticipated that should she win, this would pose some difficulties.
“But when you are talking about transforming the PNM, you are really breaking new ground. The fact that people are willing to accept you as a potential leader and are willing to give you the opportunity even though you are not in the Lower House or in the Senate, is a credit both to the party and to myself...It is a breath of fresh air,” she said. She added that there were parties in the world where such a dichotomy existed and cited Barbados and India where Sonia Gandhi was leader of a party that was stronger than the government.
To those who say that she is too soft, Beckles said she can be “hostile and aggressive” and “firm” when the occasion calls for it and use the “softer approach” when required.
Beckles said her relationship with Rowley remains cordial and as the campaign develops, it might not be as smooth as one would like.
But she said she had learnt from Rowley, who challenged Manning in 1996 and yet remained in the Parliament and was subsequently appointed to the Cabinet in successive PNM governments.