Certain negative reaction arose in some People's National Movement constituencies yesterday, following the party’s selection of new faces to replace various incumbents - and there’s concern particularly because of the rejection of former Minister Robert Le Hunte for the La Brea seat.
There are signals La Brea intends pressing for Le Hunte.
On Thursday, the PNM screened nominees for several spotlight seats, including La Brea.
Party public relations officer Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing listed screening results. The list comprises top sportswoman Cleopatra Borel (for Port-of-Spain South), former cricket star now coach Mervyn Dillon (Toco-Manzanilla), Diego Martin Corporation chairman Simon de Nobrega (DM Central), Point Fortin mayor Kennedy Richards Jr (Point Fortin) and Clifford Rambharose (Oropouche East).
Borel will replace court-embroiled incumbent MP Marlene McDonald. Dillon will replace Toco MP Glenda Jennings-Smith. De Nobrega will replace Darryl Smith and Richards will replace Point MP Edmund Dillon.
La Brea's nominees who were screened were incumbent Nicole Olivierre and Le Hunte. But La Brea's executive was asked to widen its search for nominees. The executive must return next week with more names.
Le Hunte had support from 16 of the 19 party groups. But the screening team voted 6-4 to seek more nominees, However, there are signals La Brea’s unit will seek to pursue the candidacy for Le Hunte.
La Brea chairman Wayne Wood told the T&T Guardian, “The screening team asked us to seek other candidates. In so doing, we have to go out and search. The constituency is perhaps disappointed that its very strong candidate and submissions weren’t easily attended to. Mr Le Hunte has the expertise, experiences and successful track record that made him the choice of executive and party groups.
“If there are nominations at this time, we’ll present them by Tuesday. But we do believe Robert is the best candidate for us at this time. Our recommendation stated the importance of having him as our candidate. He has phenomenal support, he bonded with community and members. We hope that coming out of this process, the best candidate we can present will be the choice."
Word within the area is that nominations are expected. But Wood said Le Hunte is a nominee and he’ll be presenting “further better information” on why the unit would persevere with the case for him,“as he’s the candidate of our choice."
Wood was asked if La Brea might adopt a "No Vote" stance if Le Hunte isn’t chosen.
He said, “Every election is significant. The people of La Brea required a candidate that will fight for them, stand for them and work in La Brea’s interests -- that was Robert Le Hunte. I can say we'll be challenging going forward building the right momentum without him if that’s the way it is ..."
But Wood dismissed perception the situation could allow UNC inroads or victory in the PNM seat.
"We’re PNM to the bone - leave it alone," he said.
Contacted on the rejection of his candidacy, Le Hunte said, “The outcome wasn’t the one I expected, especially with having overwhelming constituency support and having served PNM diligently as a hard-working professional for 31 years. I believe La Brea’s executive is very disappointed and upset."
On whether his resignation from Government - which arose after he’d submitted nomination for La Brea - may have caused him to lose the candidacy, he added, “I’m clear in my ability to differentiate between nomination and resignation - one was wanting to be a PNM flag bearer for an area where I was born and bred in. The other involved a principled position and offering my resignation to the Prime Minister.
"However it would appear other people weren’t clear on being able to differentiate between the two. Still, I continue to feel the principled position I took was best practice in keeping with the Westminster system which the Prime Minister loudly said recently he ascribes to."
On rising speculation the UNC will woo him to win the PNM stronghold, Le Hunte said he continues to be PNM vice-chairman and execute that role as he’d done with others “with integrity and professionalism ... I’ll do whatever’s in keeping with PNM’s plans. I’m resolute the PNM is the best Government for T&T. My consideration and integrity won’t allow me to consider advances made by any other parties."
Olivierre meanwhile said no decision has been taken yet and she was awaiting the completion of the screening exercise.
Kennedy Richards got the nod in Point Fortin despite Point executive’s support for retired assistant police commissioner Donald Denoon. Yesterday, however, Executive chairman Francis Bertrand said, “Once approved by the screeing team we’ll work with the candidate."
PoS South willing to support Borel
PoS South executive chairman Wendell Stephens, who was screened along with Brian Lewis, says Cleopatra Borel was the screening team’s choice - not the executive’s. He said he saw her for the first time at screening Thursday.
Stephens added, “But we’ll support whoever we’re required to and will work to ensure victory."
He said McDonald had excelled with the executive, which is why they’d have supported her bid.
“But I imagine the executive would support the party’s choice and we’ll see how that goes. She has to come up with a plan which we’ll work on," he said.
Stephens said Borel wasn’t from the area and PoS South once had an experience with ex-MP Jean Pierre, who also hadn’t been from the district. Pierre was elected to the seat but he noted the executive didn’t get along with her and things “went awry." He said the current executive isn’t the same as that one, “but we hope it doesn’t recur in this case. People don’t know the new candidate."
Stephens, however, said the UNC won’t win the seat.
“I trust things will settle down, elections haven’t been called yet."
PNM general secretary Foster Cummings meanwhile said Borel was chosen because she was a national figure. He was responding to queries whether she would fit in with the hotspot constituency.
Cummings said no nomination was also received for Fuad Abu Bakr - who wanted to screen for PoS South as well - and who remained at the screening location until screening ended after midnight. Cummings couldn’t say if Bakr was a PNM member.
On whether Arima nominee Pennelope Beckles - who’s overseas - would be screened by technology, Cummngs said the usual procedure is that people appear before the screening team. He declined to say if mechanisms would be arranged, noting he was only dealing with what was in front of him currently and no date had been set for Arima’s screening.
Mayaro nominee Antonio Ross didn’t face screening on Tuesday as he’s in Texas. He’d expected to be screened by virtual mechanism. But the executive was told he didn’t present himself. Ross sent a letter to the PNM on Thursday stating he’d withdrawn since he isn’t here.