TIME for a woman, they said. So said, so done. We congratulate Tracy Davidson-Celestine who has made history by becoming the first female leader of the Tobago wing of the PNM. In handing her a clear mandate to lead (she received approximately 60 per cent of the votes in the runoff against Kelvin Charles), party members signalled a clear desire for change.
That change is not merely a tokenistic one premised on gender. Clearly there was a desire to see a new approach, one that differs from what the party has seen from Charles. That said, there is no gainsaying that a glass ceiling has been shattered, not only within the PNM but also to some extent within the overall political landscape.
Female leadership is hardly new in Tobago, where several MPs and senators have been female. However, it is notable that both of the current Tobago MPs are female: Shamfa Cudjoe and Ayanna Webster-Roy. This means it is the first time in the island’s history that there is an all-female trinity of leadership: with women representing the island in the national Parliament and also holding political leadership of the party that controls the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
At the same time, party members on Sunday handed Charles 2,042 votes, indicating some desire for stability at this crucial point on the eve of a general election and, presumably, a THA election at some stage. For this reason, the party should probably be conscious of the need to contain the after-effects of this election process, which got off to a shaky start. Now is a time for sober reflection, not rancour and division.
In sharp contrast to the litany of complaints in relation to the first round of voting, the electoral process on Sunday was relatively smooth. Both Secretary for Finance and the Economy Joel Jack and former THA presiding officer Dr Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus sent a clear message of conciliation by uniting to back Davidson-Celestine. Even Charles quickly conceded the outcome of the final round, though he did speak of a plot against him, something which he must, upon careful reflection, realise was simply the reflection of the wishes of an electorate that holds power over him, not the other way around.
It will be very important for both Davidson-Celestine and Charles to work together given that the political leadership is now separate from that of the post of Chief Secretary. The PNM, one of the country’s longstanding political parties, will have to demonstrate maturity as it muses the issues surrounding the timing of the next THA election and/or any possible invocations of the THA Act that could relate to the tenure of Charles and the place of Davidson-Celestine, with an eye on 2020 and beyond.
For now, we applaud Davidson-Celestine for her achievement.