The race is on for the People’s National Movement (PNM) internal elections on May 18 after the various contenders filed their nomination papers yesterday at Balisier House, Port of Spain.
Incumbent political leader Dr Keith Rowley is being opposed by former PNM senator Pennelope Beckles, whose team was finally made public, with former Senate president Danny Montano contesting the position of party chairman against current chairman Franklin Khan.
Rowley’s team was first to show in the morning, with Beckles and her candidates making their appearance in the afternoon.
Beckles, who spoke about her slate minutes after filing her nomination papers, said her political opponents were “resistant to change within the democratic process”.
She was accompanied by Laventille West MP Nileung Hypolite, her father Lionel Beckles, husband Noel Robinson, sister Michelle Beckles, activist Barry Garcia and a small group of supporters, including Barbara Ryan.
The theme of Beckles’ campaign is “Inspiring Change”.
Asked to comment on her slate, Beckles said: “Danny is a person who has come from a political family. Danny’s father, the late Gerard Montano (San Fernando mayor), and his brother Robin Montano were politicians.
“Danny acted as president of the country. He is from a family that has been associated with the PNM. He brings quality leadership to the table. It augurs well for the country and the leadership of the party,” she added.
“We have the benefit of having experienced people—Ronald Boynes (former chairman of Sangre Grande Regional Corporation) has had the experience of local government. Local government reform is one of the areas I will be focusing on.”
Giving an insight into her team, Beckles said: “Eber Steele is from San Fernando; Marva Bostic, the first lady chair of the (PNM) Women’s League, is from San Fernando West; Heather Cedeno is from Oroupuche West; and from Arima, Cagney Cassimere; Esau Mohammed is from St Augustine and Jamal Martin from Laventille.
“We have a good representation of North, South, East and West. Bose Sharma, Clifford Campbell and Esau Mohammed were general election candidates.”
Beckles said her focus was on building an eclectic team.
“I am concentrating on bringing fresh faces and experience, youth, gender and demographics. It will be a blend of veterans and newcomers. I have tried to get people from all over the country.”
In a telephone interview later, Montano said: “I have been in the Senate since 1995. People know what I am like. I bring a wealth of experience, judgment and balance. I have a very good education. This country has done well to educate so many of us, and that is why we are doing so well.”
Asked about Beckles’ chances, he said: “I think she has a good chance. I think the only way the PNM can win the general election is with Penny. And to have another five years with the current arrangement, I felt strongly I had to do something.
“It was back in September when I volunteered to support her. I don’t want anything out of it, I just want good governance. I said ‘okay’ to run for chairman. She has placed an enormous amount of trust and friendship in me.”
Commenting on Beckles’ slate, Hypolite said: “I am supporting a team that is uniting the party and the country and moving forward to victory in 2015. When I look at the team that has been put together, I can associate it with inclusiveness, diversity and change. The PNM has matured over the years and we are proud to participate in the democratic process. Beckles and her slate will be ready for the challenges to lead the party and to properly govern the country.”
Moving to the campaign trail, Beckles said: “They (her opponents) are afraid of change.”
To date, Beckles said, a woman has never occupied the post of political leader within the PNM, but they have held several senior positions and firsts like House Speaker (Occah Seapaul), President (Linda Baboolal) and Deputy Speaker (Beckles).
“Within the party there are people who are afraid of a shift. There are members who still asking ‘Why are you (Beckles) contesting?’ The truth is if you say speak democracy, you have to walk the talk. When I succeed, I will be creating history.”
Asked how she felt, Beckles said: “Excited. I am looking forward to becoming the leader of the PNM. I have let down my bucket.”
In the build-up to nomination day, Port of Spain South MP Marlene McDonald, a member of Rowley’s slate, had launched a scathing attack on Beckles, calling her performance “lacklustre”.
In response, Beckles said she was engaging in the democratic process.
“Truth be told, McDonald is no longer engaging in the democratic system. We have ‘one man: one vote.’ She has the right to criticise. It is all part of the democratic system. It is about the right to choose. It is about ‘Whom do you think is the best person to lead?’
Referring to McDonald, Beckles said: “Ask her how many meetings she has attended at the Women’s League. She came to one meeting.”
Asked to share her sentiment’s on Rowley’s campaign style, Beckles said: “It is not a campaign about bullying and intimidating people. From my information, there is bullying. It ought not to be about that...people should have the right to select whom they believe is the best person to lead the PNM.”
And why she decided to contest in 2014, Beckles said: “Nothing happens before its time. It has happened four years later...people have always been asking me to run since 2010. I believe I will be successful in uniting the party and the country.”
Beckles also said no matter the election outcome, she will remain committed to the PNM and its ideals.
Today, Beckles and her team will be visiting Port of Spain and Tunapuna markets.
Pennelope Beckles slate
Political Leader—Penelope Beckles-Robinson
General Secretary—Ronald Boynes
Lady Vice-Chairman—Marvia Bellamy-Bostic
Assistant General Secretary—Clifford Campbell
Election Officer—Esau Mohammed
Field Officer—Bose Sharma
Welfare Officer—Heather Walker
Operations Officer—Eber Steele
Youth Officer—Jamal Steele
Education Officer—Joanne Lima-Neaves
Dr Keith Rowley’s slate
Political Leader—Dr Keith Rowley
Lady Vice-Chairman—Camille Robinson-Regis
General Secretary—Ashton Ford
Assistant General Secretary—Daniel Dookie
Treasurer—Raymond Tim Kee
Education Officer—Anthony Garcia
Public Relation Officer—Faris Al-Rawi
Labour Relation Officer—Jennifer Baptiste-Primus
Election Officer—Foster Cummings
Field Officer—Indar Parasram
Welfare Officer—Joycelyn Bodden
Youth Officer—Fitzgerald Hinds
Operations Officer—Irene Hinds
Assistant General Secretary—Richard Noray
Education Officer—Cecil Supersad Koylass
Youth Officer—Dane SG Wilson
Public Relations Officer—Nal Ramsingh
Labour Relation Officer—Andrew Alves