There appears to be an impending showdown between the La Brea and Toco/Sangre Grande constituencies of the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the party’s national screening committee led by its political leader and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
The showdown is over the screening committee’s refusal to accept Robert Le Hunte and Glenda Jennings-Smith, the apparent overwhelming choices of their constituencies for the next general election.
The screening committee has told the La Brea constituency executive to go back and find a new candidate and gave them until Monday to do so but up to last night, the La Brea executive remained resolute that they are going to nominate Le Hunte again and are refusing to find another candidate.
However, the screening committee has chosen former West Indies cricketer and now coach Mervyn Dillon ahead of Jennings-Smith.
Yesterday, however, the La Brea executive met and voted in favour of returning to the screening committee with Le Hunte, saying the former Public Utilities minister had helped the constituency when he was minister and had worked for a long time in the PNM.
“Le Hunte’s disagreement is with Dr Rowley not the PNM. Why must we go and find a new candidate simply because he has a falling out with the political leader? We are not Moruga and will not have a friend of the political leader foisted upon us,” a member of the La Brea executive told Guardian Media on condition of anonymity.
The executive noted that while Rowley told a media conference on Thursday that the PNM had a process for the selection of a candidate which starts with nomination from party groups and then the constituency executives, he has been breaching those very rules.
Cases in point, they say, are the selection of Winston “Gypsy” Peters in Moruga, Clarence Rambarath in Chaguanas East, Michael Seales in Tabaquite and now asking the constituency to find someone who is not going to emerge from the party process.
“Dr Rowley only seems to know the process when it is convenient. La Brea wants someone who will fight for the constituency and that person is Le Hunte,” a constituency executive said.
When the votes were originally taken, Le Hunte had the support of 20 of the 22 members of the constituency executive and two were for incumbent Nicole Olivierre. This followed a 16 to 3 margin for Le Hunte when the party groups voted.
Olivierre, who has been the MP in the area for the last five years, has not been popular among PNM supporters and it was surprising she offered herself up for re-election.
Several Cabinet sources told GML that Rowley was adamant on Thursday that he did not want to hear anything about Le Hunte insisting the incident that led to Le Hunte’s resignation is not an isolated one.
Le Hunte quit the Rowley administration after a heated recent Cabinet meeting, in which reports are he went toe to toe with Rowley over a Cabinet note. He also allegedly fell out with embattled National Security Minister Stuart Young.
Le Hunte was brought into the Cabinet by Rowley and was widely seen by the private sector as a minister who could be approached to deal with the challenges they faced. He remains the party’s vice- chairman and upon his resignation insisted that he remained loyal to the PNM.
Since Le Hunte’s resignation, Rowley has been silent on the issue.
Under the PNM constitution, the political leader no longer has the power to veto the recommendations of the screening committee. Rowley was himself a beneficiary of this change when the late Prime Minister Patrick Manning had to abide by the majority of the party’s national screening committee in the run-up to the 2010 general election. At that time, Manning had objected to Rowley contesting the Diego Martin West seat for the PNM and his executive stood with him.