The ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) national screening committee led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley will have to decide in a couple of hours what to make of a letter signed by 13 members of the San Fernando East constituency, in which they claim that they never voted for Brian Manning and instead for the incumbent Randall Mitchell to be the party’s standard-bearer for the constituency in the upcoming general election.

The letter, which the T&T Guardian has seen a copy of, was sent to the Prime Minister and copied to party chairman Colm Imbert and is the latest development in an increasingly contentious battle for nomination in the constituency once held by Manning’s father, the late prime minister Patrick Manning.

According to the letter, the voting was supposed to take place between 2 and 5 pm on Friday but this was not observed as some people were invited to vote early and there are allegations of the voting process being tainted.

The letter read: “However contrary to the designated voting process, certain members of the constituency executive were apparently invited to vote early on that morning, the ballot box was then left by the election officer at the South Regional Office between the hours of 9 am and 2 pm. During this time, several members were seen going into the South Regional Office.”

It added: “At 5.20 pm, the vote was tallied and the result told to us was 14 v 10 in favour of Brian Manning. This is odd to us because there were more than 10 votes cast in favour of Randall Mitchell. To make the issue very clear, we the undersigned signal to the screening committee now that we have cast our vote in favour of Randall Mitchell and recommend him to the screening committee.”

Manning is trying to become the PNM standard-bearer in the upcoming general election for the constituency his father held for 44 consecutive years.

However, if his 14-10 win over Mitchell is not upheld due to the dispute by the incumbent’s camp, the PNM screening committee may likely face a scenario in which it either calls for a fresh process to be conducted or screen both men.

Mitchell, who is the Tourism Minister and an attorney, became the San Fernando East MP after he won his seat in the last General Election. He had replaced Manning’s father after the late prime minister opted to bow out of politics following ill health. Manning subsequently died at the San Fernando General Hospital on July 2, 2016.

Under the PNM’s screening process, a minimum of one party group has to nominate a candidate. They are then screened by the constituency executive and the executive votes for the candidate of choice. If the vote is not unanimous, then all who received votes are free to go before the party’s national screening committee.

When the initial nomination for the San Fernando East constituency came in, four party groups supported Manning while Mitchell got the support of 22. But this is different from the executive voting process.

If both Manning and Mitchell face the committee today, Mitchell will face an uphill battle having not been able to command the support of the executive.

Mitchell also faces an opponent whose family name is synonymous with politics in San Fernando East and whose father never lost an election, even when the PNM was trounced in the 1986 and 2010 general elections.

Sources in San Fernando East say Manning also has the full backing of his mother Hazel, who is expected to campaign for him if he gets the nod from the national screening committee.

His late father Patrick Manning joined the PNM as a youth and went on to become its third leader in 1986, rebuilding the PNM after the National Alliance for Reconstruction’s crushing 1986 victory. A geologist, he was T&T’s fourth and sixth prime minister over 1991/95 and 2001/2010. The longest-serving MP, Manning represented the PNM in San Fernando East for 44 years, retiring from politics in January 2015 although he’d initially indicated interest to contest the September 2015 general election.

Reporter: Curtis Williams