The supporters, who numbered in their hundreds, gathered outside Parliament from as early as 10.30 am. Prior to the politicians’ appearance, men and women of the UNC and PNM brigades stood side by side peacefully. Half of the crowd in the yellow of the UNC and the other in the red of the PNM.
PNM supporters were there in response to a call made by Rowley at a political meeting on Tuesday evening when he asked them to wear red and hold hands in a line around the Parliament building as he presented a private motion on the controversial award of a billion-dollar contract for construction of the Beetham Waste Water Treatment Plant. However there was no such line.
Rowley was the first to arrive at Parliament and as he walked down the line of supporters, he was greeted by boos from UNC supporters and cheers from the PNM posse. He smiled, spoke to a few persons in red and then went into the building.
In the lull before Persad-Bissessar’s arrival, UNC supporters chanted “Kamla” while PNM supporters chanted, “Rowley.” Dressed in a yellow traditional African wear, complete with an elaborate head dress in honour of Spiritual Shouter Baptist Day which is being observed tomorrow, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar made a point to greet both UNC and PNM supporters prior to entering the building.
Police officers in riot gear kept a close watch on the PM as she interacted with the crowd, some of whom held placards expressing their support for their respective parties, while the PNM supporters continuously chanted, “Call elections now!”
Before the Prime Minister’s arrival, five Government ministers Gary Griffith, Ramona Ramdial, Devant Maharaj, Roodal Moonilal and Stacy Roopnarine emerged from the Parliament building to greet the UNC supporters. Although Gender Minister Clifton De Couteau got his share of boos from PNM supporters, he still took time to retrieve a placard that had fallen out of a PNM supporter’s hand, onto his side of the barrier, and hand it back to the woman.
Interestingly, St Joseph MP and PNM member Terrence Deyalsingh was cheered by supporters of both parties. He greeted the UNC supporters first, chatting with them, shaking hands with some and even hugging a few. A woman even draped a yellow cloth over his neck while hugging him. Deyalsingh then made his way to his party’s supporters where he received similar treatment.
Then came the Anil Roberts show. The Sports Minister somehow found himself in the thick of the PNM crowd where he was booed and told to move out of the way. Roberts placed his hands in the air in a show of surrender. He later told reporters he was trying to get into the Parliament building using the same route he does for every sitting when he was “attacked” by PNM supporters, which “is what Rowley and the PNM are about.”
“If they want to fight and beat me, I am a non-violent person. This is a disgrace,” he said. Arts and Multiculturalism Minister Dr Lincoln Douglas soon followed Roberts’ path through the PNM crowd and he too was booed.
Speaking later in the House of Representatives, Roberts said: “The adults in PNM jerseys...I am saying here, they were acting like hyenas in an African forest.” While saying citizens had a democratic right to protest, Roberts declared: “That PNM behaviour will not be tolerated. I have sent you a letter with such details. I am very soft and I cannot take too much pressure. So when I was accosted today, I almost cried.”
Persad-Bissessar said of the protests outside Parliament, “I thought there was a lot of support for the Government. There was not as many for the Opposition as some might have expected. People are free to protest, once they do it peacefully.”