Prime Minister Patrick Manning put the country in election mode yesterday, when he announced that April 7 would be the start of screening of 41 new candidates. The screening will begin in Manning's San Fernando East constituency, with the other 40 electoral districts following. Though he did not announce the general election date, Manning said screening would begin two days before Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is expected to file a motion of no confidence against him in Parliament. Manning was delivering the feature address during the People's National Movement's special convention at Chaguaramas Convention Centre, causing a packed hall to erupt and chant: "Long live Manning." Manning said the same day the Opposition intended to file the motion, the PNM would make an application to the acting Commissioner of Police, James Philbert, to have a demonstration against their move.
Manning said though the PNM had the majority of seats in Parliament, if the motion succeeded in Parliament, he would have to resign in one week. Should he fail to step down, Manning said President George Maxwell Richards would dissolve Parliament and a general election would be called. "Those are the laws. So when they file the motion of no confidence, what they are really saying is that they want an election. "But, my dear friends, the methods they use can't work," Manning said. "If they feel that the time has come for a general election, then I agree with them, my dear friends," teasing his supporters, who danced and waved their balisier, buntings and flags.
As a consequence of the Opposition's persistent calls for a general election, Manning said: "I now want to direct the PNM to commence the nominations of candidates exercise for a general election with immediate effect."
As Manning dropped the bombshell, PNM supporters went into a frenzy. "Screening will begin, ladies and gentlemen, on Wednesday, April 7, beginning in the constituency of San Fernando. Then we will screen all the others." Insisting that the PNM was ready and prepared for elections, Manning warned the Siparia MP that she should not "count her chickens before they are hatched." Manning said it was not for Persad-Bissessar to decide who led this country. "It is a matter for the people. It is time for the people to decide. When they go to Parliament, we marching," Manning insisted. Describing the convention as a special day, Manning said he had full confidence that when the election bell was rung the PNM "will beat them" in the East, West, North and South.
Manning also blew his trumpet, outlining all the PNM had done since taking up office in 2001, among them the number of jobs created, a reduction in taxes, free tertiary education, medication and training programmes. "Yet they say the PNM has done nothing for the small man." After Manning's address, PNM chairman Conrad Enill told flag-bearing supporters, who spilled onto the corridor and aisles of the hall: "We have an election to win. Our party is in election mode. Our work is not yet done. Let us go and get it done and win the election."