PEOPLE'S National Movement (PNM) political leader and Prime Minister Dr Rowley declared he would not forgive Tobagonians if they elected Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) political leader Watson Duke to Parliament.
Duke, the Tobago House of Assembly Minority Leader, is contesting the Tobago East seat against PNM incumbent Ayanna Webster-Roy in the August 10 general election.
In a tone reminiscent of the "stand alone" stance taken by his predecessor Patrick Manning, about the PNM and coalitions, Rowley on Monday bluntly rejected the idea that the party would ever join forces with the PDP, even to keep the party in government.
He declared, "Watson Duke is on a criminal charge and should not be offering himself for Parliament." Duke was charged with sexual offences and sedition last September. He was cleared of the sedition charge in January.
Over the weekend, Duke said in a Facebook video, "We are prepared to have a coalition, we are prepared to work with any political organisation..."
Rowley continued, "This is not a joke and should not be treated as being of no consequence." He declared, "Additionally, if the people of Tobago elect to Parliament a person who is on a criminal charge, I will personally not give them a pass on that!"
Rowley said he and the PNM "will take the same principled position we took with our own PNM MP, the incumbent for Port of Spain South (Marlene McDonald) who had to give way until the law has taken its full course." McDonald is before the court on charges of conspiracy to defraud, money laundering and misbehaviour in public office.
Rowley removed her as public administration minister and PNM deputy leader after she was charged last August. McDonald, who said she will be vindicated, was not screened for the Port of Spain South seat for the general election.
After a dual citizenship issue arose with former four-time Olympic shot-put athlete Cleopatra Borel, attorney Keith Scotland was selected as the PNM's Port of Spain South candidate.
Before McDonald, Rowley said the PNM had the experience of Franklin Khan and Eric Williams, who had similar difficulties. In 2005, PNM councillor Dansam Dhansook withdrew his allegation that he paid bribes for a seismic survey to Khan and Williams between 2001 and 2003.
When the allegations were made against them, Khan and Williams resigned as ministers in the Manning Cabinet and vowed to clear their names. Rowley said on Monday, "We of the PNM consistently subscribe to the principles of our jurisprudence in all instances that a person is innocent until proven guilty."
He continued, "But even so, upon being charged, some doors ought to become closed to you, until that innocence is proven." After saying Parliament's doors are one such set, Rowley said, "We will not lower our standards nor will we abandon our principles to meet the personal ambitions of Watson Duke and his handful of supporters."
He declared, "Even if I was minded to ease up Watson Duke, and I am not so inclined, the PNM's Women's League will have none of it. Where a man on a criminal charge is required to put us into government, we will decline that offer."
Rowley said the PNM is confident "the vast majority of the electors of Tobago are decent, right-thinking, proud citizens who will use their franchise to preserve our committed standards, therefore no such situation will arise.
"We of the PNM are always held to a higher standard and will not let our country down when called to stand upon principle."
He said this national conversation should be had in full public view. "No sacred cows in this national pasture."
PNM general secretary Foster Cummings also ruled out any coalition between the PNM and PDP, saying, "We are very confident that we will win both Tobago seats."