Who will be the next political leader of the People's National Movement's (PNM) Tobago Council? This is the burning question as the party's membership head to the polls in an internal election on Sunday to elect a new executive. Whoever becomes political leader will manage the PNM's affairs on the island for the next four years.
Incumbent political leader and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, who won the 2016 internal election in a run-off, is seeking to retain his position with his slogan: On Track, No Turning Back.
He is being challenged by TT Ambassador to Costa Rica Tracy Davidson-Celestine, Deputy Chief Secretary and Secretary for Finance and the Economy Joel Jack and former THA presiding officer Dr Denise Tsoiafatt- Angus.
Former Tobago West MP Stanford Callender is also hoping to return as chairman but may face stiff competition from the council's vice-chairman Wendell Berkley, who is on Davidson-Celestine's slate. A total of 45 candidates are contesting some 17 positions on the council's executive.
Apart from political leader, chairman, and vice-chairman, these include PRO, elections officer, operations officer, social media officer, general secretary, education officer, and treasurer. Alvin Pascall, chairman of the election supervisory committee, said all mechanisms are in place for a "free and fair" election.
"We would be ready for Sunday," he told Newsday Tobago. He said an estimated 10,000 members are eligible to vote at some 13 polling stations across the island. Voting begins at 8 am and runs until 4 pm. Pascall said special voting at Balisier House, Port of Spain and at the Tobago Council's uptown Scarborough headquarters, began on Wednesday.
"We had a very small turnout at Balisier House in Trinidad and we had a small turnout at council's office in Tobago. So, we had special voting days - 15, 16, 17." Special voters, he said, include candidates and their spouses and certain polling day workers.
"So, there is a special form that you fill out and that form will say if you are qualified to be a special voter and wished to exercise that right." Saying he has received complaints about names not being on the voters' list, Pascall said the committee is addressing the issue.
"I have a number of those persons but there is a person at council office and anybody who has a query with their names, I have asked them to go a deal with that one time. Those are some of the hiccups." He added members should not wait until after the election to complain that their names were not on the list.
Asked if there was a cut-off point for members to lodge complaints, Pascall said: "I would say 'No,' because if your name did not go on the list, it is not there. But to find the problem, you should have been doing that days before the election. So, I am hoping that they may not be seeing it on the list but it is on the list."
The leadership candidates have had an exhaustive past few weeks of campaigning hosting walkabouts and cottage meetings in communities to woo voters, particularly the undecided.
Charles' campaign has focused largely on the need to continue the work his administration began three years, especially in the areas of tourism, infrastructure, education, and entrepreneurship.
Charles, who is fielding a full slate of candidates, said the party has done exceptionally well over the past few years.
"We registered significant victories from our efforts to transform the economic and infrastructural platform required for advancing the state of our island. No one, absolutely no one can dispute the fact that this administration has performed and done so creditably over the last three years," he said.
Charles, who is also Secretary for Education, Energy, and Innovation, said his administration's success was achieved despite a significant drop in budgetary allocation.
In her bid to lead the council, Davidson-Celestine said she intends to first establish a reconciliation committee to begin the process of healing within the party.
She said the initiative forms part of a 100-day action plan aimed at "tackling the multiple concerns confronting the party."
The former Speyside/L'Anse Fourmi/Parlatuvier representative, who also has a full slate, said she intends to implement a measurement structure to monitor the council's performance, improve delivery mechanisms within the PNM and establish a party school to treat with the mentoring of young, up and coming politicians.
Tsoiafatt-Angus, who resigned as THA presiding officer in November to contest the election, has vowed to create a culture of communication and participatory governance if elected leader. She said there must also be an avenue for the council to accept criticism.
Tsoiafatt-Angus, who is contesting the election independently, observed many units of the council needed to be strengthened to facilitate greater involvement by members and supporters in its affairs.
"That is critical," she said. "Every single member of this party has a contribution to make and it is important that we value that. Not because some may have certification and others may have common sense that we feel that we must disregard one over the other. They have to work hand in hand."
Jack, who represents the electoral district of Bacolet/Mt St George, believes he is well-qualified to lead the council having served with distinction since entering the THA.
Jack added the upcoming general election and THA election demanded fresh leadership and a clear vision.
"As an institution, we have been nurturing and grooming leaders. I have a responsibility now to provide the servant leadership that persons in the party are clamouring for," he said.
Jack said since filing his nomination papers, last month, he has received overwhelming support.
He said one of his priorities if elected leader will be to push for internal self-government on the island. The bill is expected to come to the Parliament by March.