Diego Martin East MP Colm Imbert says his ethnicity will not be a factor in his quest to become the Opposition Leader. He said he would be seeking the post of Opposition Leader in the face of a suggestion by PNM's General Council for party MPs to support Keith Rowley as Opposition Leader. Imbert also said yesterday that he was seriously considering offering himself for the post of PNM political leader which would be filled by a special PNM convention on June 27.
Asked about the chances a white Trinidadian would have to become Opposition Leader or political leader, in the black-based Afro-centric PNM, Imbert said: "I joined PNM in 1987...I was embraced with open arms. I never experienced any hostility and was also made to feel at home. "My race has never been a factor in the PNM and that's one of the reasons I remained so long," he said. "Once members believe you are a true PNM soldier, they embrace you no matter where you come from." Imbert said he objected to the idea that "somebody could be appointed leader of a party by acclamation and could just walk into the post." He added: "Our party is not like that."
Imbert said he was seriously considering the post of political leader. "I'll seek advice on it and speak to a lot of prominent people and senior statesmen on the best thing for me and the party at this time," he said. At a PNM General Council meeting on Thursday night, former Prime Minister Patrick Manning resigned as political leader. PNM Tobago leader Orville London recommended Rowley as Opposition Leader. Tina Gronlund-Nunez, chairman of Manning's San Fernando East constituency, seconded the motion.
Yesterday, Gronlund-Nunez said Manning was clear in his earlier statement to the council that he would support any decision the council made on the issue. "That's why I seconded the motion," she added. Gronlund-Nunez said it was very sad what subsequently took place when Manning was hounded out of the compound by Rowley's supporters. Manning, who had come to the council with a resignation letter in hand–and delivered it to the council–was hounded out of the compound by supporters of Rowley when his vehicle was being driven out of Balisier House.
The PNMites who had come by maxi taxis to support Rowley shouted for Manning to go. Riot police had to be called out when the Rowley supporters–who came from East-West Corridor areas and Couva South–put on an agitated display, denigrating Manning, calling for Rowley and verbally attacking members of the media. Yesterday, Imbert who distanced himself from the display said he was offering himself as Opposition Leader since he felt he was suitably qualified. "I've been an elected MP for almost 19 years, a cabinet minister for over 12 years, and held different portfolios from Health and Works to Education and Local Government," he said. "I was Leader of Government Business for two and a half years with responsibility for all PNM MPs and conduct of Parliament–no one can possibly think I'm weak."
Imbert said he was responsible for a number of programmes from GATE, CDAP and UTT to water taxis, the Tobago ferry, new buses and others innovations. Asked about his near loss to the UNC in Monday's election, Imbert said he had learned that the UNC had targeted him particularly and had wooed disaffected PNM voters and those who traditionally did not vote. "It was obvious it was not in the best interest of a lot of people that I not be in the Parliament as I am a thorn in the side of many–not just the UNC, but other people in the system, so I would not be available to be an alternative for the (PNM) leadership," he said. Imbert said any Opposition Leader from henceforth would exist only until June 27 when whoever is elected political leader would automatically become Opposition Leader also.
Mixed views from MPs
Yesterday, various other PNM MPs expressed mixed views on the General Council's recommendation for MP Keith Rowley to be Opposition Leader until June 27. Diego Martin Central MP Amery Browne: "I will absolutely speak to both Mr Rowley and Mr Imbert. I'll be seeking what's in the best interest of the party and country and inform my decision on this basis.
"By the way, I was never up for political leader. That allegation was mischief by some media."
Laventille West MP Nileung Hypolite: "We have two experienced persons in the Lower House in the persons of Mr Rowley and Mr Imbert and I would like to hear from both parties as to why they believe they can move PNM forward. The General Council cannot make a decision, it is up to the MPs to decide. "So it's only fair MPs hear from those who want to put themselves forward for the post. Certain of us will be speaking with them and I'm sure that it should be settled by today (Friday) and the PNM will rebrand and rebuild." Pt Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon: "In my view, I must take deeper view of this situation. It seems there is an extension of the battle going on.
"However, there are serious considerations. I will not dismiss Mr Rowley as a candidate He is far more experienced than others, but at the same time, I'd like to speak to both him and Mr Imbert on the best situation to take us back to Government. "The display we saw at Balisier House by the crowd was disheartening. Mr Manning is an exemplary statesman and visionary and has left a great legacy." La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffery: "If the General Council made a recommendation, I think that's the way to go. I will support Mr Rowley. It's not a personal thing, but I'll support what the ground troops want.
"But I also don't think that the treatment meted out to Mr Manning by the crowd on Thursday was fair for someone who has made such a contribution. I'm not for this mob rule thing." St Ann's East MP Joanne Thomas: "I have in my mind who I'd want to support, but I'd want to meet both Mr Rowley and Mr Imbert and let them show us what they have to offer. "Let's give everybody a chance to talk and tell us what they have ahead of the other nominee." Those who did not return calls or were not available were Port-of-Spain North MP Pat Mac Intosh–whose candidacy Rowley had endorsed two weeks ago–and MPs Marlene McDonald, Donna Cox and Alicia Hospedales.