In a letter submitted yesterday to a special General Council meeting at Balisier House, Manning said: “The general election of May 24, 2010 did not result in victory for the PNM. As political leader of the party, I accept full responsibility for this result.
“I am of the view that the party should in these circumstances, now proceed to elect a new political leader in the shortest possible time and in accordance with the party’s constitution. To facilitate this process, I hereby resign the office of political leader. May I also indicate that if it is the party’s wish, that I am prepared to stay on as political leader until a new leader is elected, at which time it will be my pleasure to gracefully demit office.”
Manning added in the letter: “I wish to assure you and through you, our party’s membership, that I will give full support to the new political leader and at no time operate in any manner, the effect of which will be to bring the party into disrepute.”
As he read the contents of the letter to reporters at a news conference after the council’s meeting, PNM chairman Conrad Enill said: “Today the general council accepted the resignation of the political leader.” Enill said a special convention will be held on June 27 to elect a new political leader. He added that Rowley will serve as Opposition Leader until a new leader is elected and is expected to “take charge of the process.”
Drama unfolded from as early as 4 pm when PNM supporters, the majority of them Rowley supporters, began gathering at Balisier House. Manning arrived at 4.50 pm accompanied by two bodyguards and walked briskly past PNM supporters some of whom taunted him.
In contrast, Rowley was mobbed by supporters who chanted, “We want Rowley!” as he entered Balisier House, ten minutes later. “Rowley is the man!” shouted PNM supporter Melba Boxhill. Arriving shortly before Rowley, Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert disclosed that he was “seriously considering” running for the post of political leader.
As the crowd of supporters grew larger and started to speculate about what was happening inside the meeting, one supporter David Taitt pulled out a speaker phone and declared, “Manning must go today. This is the voice of the ground troops. Our country must not fall into the hands of people who we can’t trust.”
Shortly after making that statement, a group of police officers arrived at Balisier House and cautioned him about what one officer described as his unruly behaviour.
Chaos broke out at 5.45 pm, when Manning emerged from the rear of Balisier House and jumped into the back seat of his private vehicle, a Prado jeep. Supporters swarmed the vehicle, taunting Manning who looked disappointed and some even tapped the front of the vehicle as it drove toward the main gate under escort from heavily armed officers from the Police Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB), who arrived at Balisier House just as Manning was leaving.
More GEB officers were on the street immediately outside Balisier House ensuring no one tried to stop Manning’s vehicle. He waved to reporters from the back seat of the vehicle as he was driven away.
A police constable who identified himself as Sanowar from the Woodbrook Police Station said neither he nor the other officers with him, contacted the GEB. “They were in the area.” Asked by reporters if the GEB officers were there because there could have been a threat to Manning’s safety, he replied, “I believe so.”
At about 6.30 pm, a thumbs up sign flashed from a person inside the General Council meeting, that was taking place on the top floor of Balisier House causing Rowley’s supporters to cheer loudly. Rowley himself emerged at about 7 pm to tell the gathering, “The General Council has taken a decision that should put me in a position to occupy the position of Opposition Leader to discharge on behalf of this party, the responsibilities under the Constitution. I’ve accepted that arrangement and I will do so to the best of my ability.”
As Rowley left Balisier House, Imbert said the General Council accepted a motion from Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Orville London (the party’s deputy leader for Tobago) to recommend that the PNM MPs in the House write President George Maxwell Richards to indicate they were supporting Rowley as Opposition Leader.
Imbert said under the Constitution, at least half of the total amount of MPs (in this case seven) must support Rowley for him to become Opposition Leader. He said London’s motion, “is not an instruction per se...the MPs could do as they please.” Asked if he would support Rowley to become Opposition Leader, Imbert replied, “I prefer not to answer that question at this point in time.” Imbert was House Leader in the last Parliament and publicly crossed swords with Rowley over issues concerning Udecott, in defence of Manning.
Speaking at a news conference at 8 pm, Enill said he saw no reason why PNM MPs would not heed the General Council’s recommendation to support Rowley as Opposition Leader. He added they would be “encouraged” to do so.
“What the party is seeking to do now is move from a situation where you do not have a political leader, you have a transitional arrangement and then you have stability.” Enill said while Manning had resigned as PNM leader, he would remain the San Fernando East MP.
He declined to answer questions about Rowley’s credibility to serve as Opposition Leader given his public feud with Manning over Udecott statements during the General Election campaign at which he (Rowley) urged supporters to vote for the PNM but not necessarily for Manning.
Stating that PNM General Secretary Martin Joseph would today initiate the process whereby the party would advance candidates for the post of political leader, Enill said he as chairman and the PNM’s deputy leaders (London, Joan Yuille-Williams, Nafeesa Mohammed and Dr Lenny Saith) will govern the political affairs of the party until a new leader is elected, while Rowley will guide the party’s strategy in the new Parliament.
He added that no one has asked either him or PNM public relations officer Jerry Narace to serve as senators in the new Parliament. As Opposition leader, Rowley advises the President on such appointments. Enill said when a new political leader is elected, that person would determine whether the rest of the party’s leadership can lead the PNM forward and make the appropriate changes.
Enill added that in such a situation, he would have absolutely no problem resigning as chairman, if the new leader determined it was in the best interest of the PNM. Stating that Joseph shares this same view, Enill dismissed media reports that he had resigned as PNM chairman.
Reflecting on the overwhelming 29 to 12 defeat the PNM suffered in Monday’s election, Enill said it was clear the PNM did not do enough work to convince undecided voters to support the party. He said the PNM’s “style of leadership” might have contributed to its defeat. He said the party would review its institutional structure to ensure it remains relevant in the country’s politics. Earlier in the day, Saith said he would not be returning to the Senate in the new Parliament and would not be taking a front line role in rebuilding the party.
Stating he will be 75-years-old in November, Saith said now was the time for him to step out of the political arena and follow other pursuits.