ON THE home stretch to a general election, the ruling PNM has ushered in significant changes in the space of a few days. These changes, combined with the opposition party’s signal of a desire to adjust its own line-up, suggest campaign 2020 will be a case of out with the old and in with the new on all sides.
Though discrete developments, it’s hard not to see the shifts in the PNM in the context of the coming contest. First, political leader Dr Rowley accepted, in his capacity as Prime Minister, the resignation of Robert Le Hunte as public utilities minister and senator. Then, Brian Manning was approved for the San Fernando East seat once occupied by his father Patrick Manning, who held that seat for the longest parliamentary tenure in history, from 1976 to 2015. And Jason “JW” Williams, of Palance fame, was announced as Le Hunte’s replacement in the Senate after last week being selected for the Barataria/San Juan race.
The timing of Le Hunte’s resignation provoked much speculation as to causes, with attendant media leaks suggesting a difference of opinion in relation to water policy. Whatever the intricacies, the overall picture was unsettling, given the key roles Le Hunte held. Not only was he public utilities minister, but he was also the vice-chairman of the committee set up to pave the way forward in the wake of the devastating covid19 crisis, a position which saw him second only to the Prime Minister. With so much uncertainty on the horizon, it was unsettling to see such an abrupt departure.
At the same time, Le Hunte’s retention of a position on the PNM’s screening committee suggests a lack of bad blood. The matter may well have further developments, but all eyes turn, now, to the new candidates.
Though a new face, Manning’s lineage adds an aura of familiarity to him. In addition to Patrick, his mother Hazel Manning was a key figure in his father’s Cabinet. While all of this has the air of a political dynasty (with echoes of the Pandays of the UNC), his primary challenge will be to forge his own path, perhaps drawing on his background in finance and economics.
Equally, Williams, whose very surname brings to mind the most famous PNM figure in history, Dr Eric Williams, will have to navigate a tightrope between celebrity (his collaboration with Ancil “Blaze” Isaac won the Soca Monarch and Road March in 2010) and substance, though he is hardly the first figure from popular culture to take to the hustings.
Combined with the recent appointment of Ancil Dennis as THA Chief Secretary, this all suggests youth is stepping up. With UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar having announced that party’s search for fresh faces some months ago, voters should brace for a new wave.