Deputy Speaker Pennelope Beckles emerged from Balisier House last night, looking not totally confident that she will get the nod to again contest the Arima seat for the PNM. She faced a stiff challenge, sources said, from PNM senator Laurel Lezama, 28. And a number of other incumbent candidacies remained in limbo. They include Toco/Sangre Grande, La Horquetta/Talparo, and Arima. Indra Ojah-Maharaj, the Toco/Sangre Grande MP is facing at least three challengers–Ronald Boynes, Anil Juteram and Eric Taylor. All have been screened. La Horquetta/Talparo MP Roger Joseph is also facing a major challenge from former Miss Trinidad and Tobago Kenisha Thom-Selvon. That seat was screened on Thursday.
In the midst of all of this came reports last night that Sport Minister Gary Hunt has withdrawn his candidacy for the Port-of-Spain North/St Ann's West for the PNM in the upcoming general election. A three-paragraph, unsigned release with "Hon Gary Hunt MP" typed at the bottom said Hunt expressed his "gratitude to the constituency that I served with dedication over the last two and half years." It stated: "I would like to wish the new candidate a sound victory. I remain committed to the People's National Movement's vision and ideals." Hunt has apologised to the nation for putting up the $2 million national flag at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, saying it was a "misstep." Last night, Beckles, who was not confirmed during her screening at Balisier House, told the media: "I am satisfied that I have served my constituency well...I look forward and hope that I am selected and I am given the opportunity to serve in the manner that I have served. "There is no decision yet," she said.
Beckles said she did not feel a sense of betrayal that Lezama, who helped campaigned for her in the past, would oppose her to represent the PNM Arima. Beckles said her screening lasted for about 15 minutes. After Beckles exited, Lezama presented herself to the media around 7.05 pm. When asked whether she thought she was the better candidate for the job, Lezama said: "We both have our strengths, and I think that I have a lot to offer." Lezama said the screening process "was a great challenge" and that Beckles had done a great service. Lezama suffered much public criticism after it was revealed that she received about $500,000 in funding from a controversial Culture Ministry bursaries programme for the years 2004, 2005 and 2006. It allowed her to pursue an undergraduate law and politics degree from the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom.
During the last elections in 2007, a number of incumbents did not go up for re-election. They included Ken Valley, Fitzgerald Hinds, Camille Robinson-Regis and Jarrette Narine. Screening continues today, with Point Fortin MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs Paula Gopee-Scoon, also facing some challengers. Gopee-Scoon is facing challenge from three other contenders, including Point Fortin Mayor Victor Mitchell, former councillor Abdon Mason and Nigel Minors, president of the South-Western Chamber and a Team Leader of the International Business Unit Lake Asphalt. A fourth contender, international ship captain George Alexis, who was also screened for the seat before the last election, sent a letter to Balisier House yesterday, withdrawing his nomination. The Point Fortin contingent will face the screening committee at 1.30 pm today at Balisier House. "Point Fortin is ready for change, and if they put back the incumbent, Point Fortin could lose the seat," a long-standing member of the PNM said yesterday.
Supporting Minors, members of the business community told the Guardian yesterday: "Point Fortin is no longer a safe seat and representation is going to be a factor in the next election." Former chamber president Francis Bertrand who also served as a Mayor of Point Fortin agreed that "the fortunes of Point Fortin are not guaranteed. "I certainly think representation will be a big factor," Bertrand said, confirming that the relationship between the representative and the constituency was estranged. Some residents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there was quiet discontent in the constituency over the non- delivery of critical infrastructure such as the Point Fortin Area Hospital, a highway to Point Fortin, as well as an administrative complex, cultural and sporting centres.
"Point Fortin has been clamouring for proper representation for years, but now that priority has been given for the construction of hospitals in other areas, the highway to Point Fortin has disappeared from the radar and focus is now on Mayaro," a resident said. "The level of representation for the entire South-western Peninsula is not what it should have been...There is a general feeling of rural neglect in Point Fortin, La Brea and Fyzabad, areas where the energy resources are.