Re-elected PNM chairman Stanford Callender, centre, sits between Kelvin Charles, left, and Tracy Davidson-Celestine, during a press conference prior to the election runoff. PHOTO BY DAVID REID - DAVID REID
Re-elected PNM chairman Stanford Callender, centre, sits between Kelvin Charles, left, and Tracy Davidson-Celestine, during a press conference prior to the election runoff. PHOTO BY DAVID REID - DAVID REID

Although she called on him to step down as Chief Secretary after his defeat in last Sunday's runoff election, newly-elected political leader of the People's National Movement's (PNM's) Tobago Council Tracy Davidson-Celestine insists there is no acrimony between her and former leader Kelvin Charles.

In an i95.5FM interview on Thursday, Davidson-Celestine said the people have given her a fresh mandate.

"In the Westminster model, when a new mandate is given to a new leader, the old political leader must step down," she said.

Charles has since refused to resign and reminded his new political leader he was elected.

Davidson-Celestine does not believe the wrangling pre- and post-PNM internal election will affect their relationship.

"My relationship with Mr Charles continues to be a professional one," she claimed in an interview with Newsday on Friday at the Mt Irvine Beach Resort, Tobago.

"All throughout 2016 (last Tobago Council internal election) to now, Mr Charles and I have been very cordial in our discussions. We greet each other. We are very, very friendly and I will really expect that to continue. I have spoken to him and he has spoken to me. We are on the same page where the politics is concerned to ensure we are organised in the best possible way."

She is aware, though, that post-runoff comments on social media as well as talk within party circles tell a different story. While some posts commented on the seeming tension between them, others observed that in instances where they had to acknowledge each other, the greetings lacked genuineness.

Davidson-Celestine said she has chosen to focus on the "bigger picture" – healing the party and strategising for the upcoming general election and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections, constitutionally due in 2021.

Saying she has made some strides in this regard, Davidson-Celestine told Newsday: "At the level of the Tobago Council of the PNM executive, most of the (new) members would have reached out to me to express congratulations and more so, to indicate that they are willing to work with me in moving the interests of the party forward and in dealing with the development of Tobago."

She continued: "I have pledged my support throughout the length and breadth of the campaign to work with each and every one in the process and I would expect that going forward in terms of the Tobago executive that there are no more teams and that we focused on the bigger picture."

Davidson-Celestine, TT's Ambassador to Costa Rica, won the runoff with the backing of defeated leadership candidates Deputy Chief Secretary and Secretary for Finance and the Economy Joel Jack and former THA presiding officer Dr Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus. In so doing, she created history in becoming the first woman to lead the 22 year-old council.

The former Speyside/L'Anse Fourmi/Parlatuvier representative received 3,050 votes while Charles got 2,042.

Davidson-Celestine, who, like Charles, fielded a slate of 17 candidates, now has five members on the council's executive.

Asked how this dynamic is likely to work moving forward, the former deputy chief secretary said this would be a part of the responsibilities of the reconciliation committee.

The committee, she said, underpins her 100-day plan for moving the party forward.

"You have to give people time to heal and express their views. I am thinking it is an excellent proposal (committee) and it will allow people to vent and eventually after that venting process is over, the process of healing and reconciliation will start. And so, one may expect that the reconciliation may happen as soon as is possible but the committee will help and guide that process right through the end."

Davidson-Celestine said she has not yet selected people for the committee but expects to do so by the end of next week.

"I am meeting with the executive of the Tobago Council on Tuesday and I will put forward suggestions for the members of the committee and thereafter that will be made public."

Davidson-Celestine, who spent 12 years as an assemblyman in the former Orville London-led THA, is optimistic the party could regain some semblance of normalcy before the general election.

"Most persons within the PNM would want to ensure we are organised in the best possible manner and utilise all the skills and resources that are available to us and I know, even though we have had the election, that all persons would want to see the forces coming together to treat with the general election and also the THA elections. So, I really don't anticipate any serious challenges in terms of preparing for those elections. I am very optimistic."

The Betsy's Hope native said after the healing period, she intends to establish a campaign team to strategise for the general election.

"That team will take into consideration all of the issues and opportunities, all of the threats out there in the environment and then over the next few months we will start rolling out the strategy that will help us to win both the general election and the THA elections."

In the meantime, she said there is much work to be done in uniting the party.

Said Davidson-Celestine: "It is mainly about bringing east and west together, bringing the leaders and officers together, especially those who would have lost. Within all of those teams, you have quite a lot of expertise and you don't want to lose that going forward."

Davidson-Celestine said one major plank in developing the party will be the proposed construction of the council's new headquarters. Saying she met with architects during the campaign, Davidson-Celestine said the project would require significant funding as well as buy-in from members in terms of the design.

Empowering the women's arm and youth groups, she said, are also high on her agenda.

As political leader, Davidson-Celestine said she intends to contest an electoral district in the THA election.

"If you want to take the development forward then obviously you would have to contest a seat. But I have not determined yet which that will be. Within the next few months when we have gone past this stage of the politics, then I will start looking towards that."

So, has her victory sunk in?

"I ran for political leader of the PNM in 2016 and I have been in politics for quite some time now. So, what is in front of me is what I am accustomed to and a position I have been preparing for ever since I entered politics. When you enter politics you would ultimately try to move to the highest level within the political organisation."

Davidson-Celestine said she is not daunted by the challenges that confront her as the council's first female leader.

"I take things one day at a time and I pray and ask for guidance as well in order to ensure that I have the strength to surmount every challenge that I face. So apart from prayers I would ensure that I am able to mobilise the people within the party to guide, propel and help to make the right decisions."



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