Former political leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM) Tobago Council Kelvin Charles said he graciously conceded defeat to Tracy Davidson-Celestine but remains unhappy with how his rivals campaigned for the leadership of the party.
On Sunday evening, TT Ambassador to Costa Rica, Tracy Davidson-Celestine created history by becoming the first woman to lead the Tobago Council. She got the nod of the party’s membership over Charles in an eagerly anticipated runoff, one week after the party’s internal election. Davidson-Celestine received 3,050 votes while Charles received 2,042.
The other leadership candidates, Deputy Chief Secretary Joel Jack and former THA presiding officer Dr Denise Tsoiafatt Angus, called for change after their campaigns failed and endorsed Davidson-Celestine as the new PNM leader.
Speaking with reporters gathered outside the Tobago Council office in Scarborough shortly before 10 pm on Sunday, Charles said: “I am disappointed but at the end of the day, it is what it is… the people of the party in Tobago have spoken and I have every obligation to respect their voice… I thought that I would have won.”
A sombre-looking Charles visited the Council office along with his wife Catherine and a handful of supporters, which included secretaries Dr Agatha Carrington, Nadine Stewart-Phillips, Marslyn Melville-Jack and Kwesi DesVignes, however, they left before the arrival of Davidson-Celestine and her victory entourage.
He noted that prior to visiting the Tobago Council Office, he did two things.
“I called my competitor and I conceded defeat, and it was done quite graciously.
“I also spoke to those members who were present at our camp and, in fact, said to them that this is not a time for recrimination (but) for us to recognise that we are one party,” he said.
Charles noted that while his performance as PNM leader was not discredited, he personally felt demonised by the campaign.
“In fact, they stayed far from commenting on my performance, but they attacked me viciously and everybody knows that. But… I am happy that my campaign did not sink to their level because at the end of the day, I shall continue to hold my head high and that of my team; I did make the point that how you campaign is how you would govern, so let's wait and see.”
But with two upcoming elections – the THA (2021) and general elections (2020) – does he think the PNM is strong enough to win?
“I hope so… I sincerely hope so,” he said.
Last Friday, the momentum shifted when Davidson-Celestine announced that she had gained the support of defeated candidates Jack and Tsoiafatt Angus. Commenting on the alliance, Charles said it was not by chance.
“Clearly, if you follow the pattern, it was orchestrated.”
Charles said a number of things would have contributed to his loss but would “reflect a bit and we can talk about that subsequently."
He added, "I would prefer not to rush into judgment until I analyse the results.”
But just what is Charles’ next plan of action?
“It has been a very gruelling campaign over the last couple of weeks and tomorrow (Monday), I shall seek to renew my energy and then I would make a determination as to what my next steps would be. In the meantime, I would continue my work as Chief Secretary until that matter… I understand that a particular comment was made, so I’ll see how that evolves.”
In the interim, re-elected PNM chairman Stanford Callender congratulated the new leader but did note some grievances.
“It is my intention to meet with the party’s leadership because I am a member of the leadership and there are certain serious matters I want to raise with them. One of which is the integrity of the Tobago Council of the People’s National Movement… the same way Tobagonians defend the Tobago House of Assembly as an institution, the PNM must defend the integrity and autonomy of the Tobago Council.
“There are several things that I am not happy about, but I am not going to speak to them tonight,” he said adding that he was not surprised by Davidson-Celestine’s win.
“When I looked at what was happening, it is clear that the support of Joel Jack and Angus worked. When you look at the results and the trend, that support with other support from high places and other places, I am not surprised at the result...
“What I noticed (at) every polling station, Charles votes increased from last Sunday and in Tracy’s situation, you could see that the support, the endorsement worked… when you look at the numbers across the board.”
Questioned about infiltration into the elections by other organisations, Callender had this to say.
“No, no other organisations... there might have been interference with the operations of the Tobago Council in this election.”
Pressed for more information, Callender declined comment.
“I know of what I speak, I’m not going to go into it. At my earliest opportunity to sit with the party’s leadership, I would discuss this.”