A restructured executive of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has emerged in what could be termed as the changing of the guard during Sunday’s annual convention of the party held at the Westerhall Secondary School (WSS).
As was highly anticipated, former Finance Minister, Senator Nazim Burke has taken over as Political Leader of Congress which lost all fifteen seats to the New National Party (NNP) in general elections held almost one-year ago.
Sen. Burke replaced former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas who, after 13 years at the helm as Political Leader decided to step down from the post.
Thomas who formally entered frontline politics in the 1984 general elections had served the NDC in the capacity as Leader of the Opposition between 2003-08, and then as Prime Minster from July 2008 to February 2013.
Burke got the overwhelming nod by the estimated 400 delegates at the convention to take over the top job with Congress.
He easily swept aside the challenge of former Education Minister, Franka Bernadine.
Former Lecturer at the T.A Marryshow Community College, Joseph Andall who contested the general election last year for the rural St. Patrick’s West constituency will now serve as the NDC deputy Political Leader.
Andall defeated Franka Bernadine for the post to the executive that is now dominated by pro-Burke forces.
Former Tourism Minister in the NDC Government, Dr. George Vincent was elected unopposed as Chairman of the party.
Dr. Vincent, another of the defeated candidate in the last general elections, would be assisted as Deputy Chairman by Glen Noel, the former Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the party.
Sen. Bernadine will now perform as the new NDC PRO. She will be assisted by Randal Robinson, the Caretaker for the St. George South-east constituency.
The new General Secretary of Congress is former Minister of Youth Empowerment and Sports, Patrick Simmons.
He will be assisted by three Assistant General Secretaries – Shane Ross, Raphael Paul, and Phillip Alexander for the southern, western, and eastern districts respectively.
The new Recording Secretary is Vincent Roberts, with his assistant being Velma Hamilton.
Business woman Merle Byer is the new Treasurer, while the Labour Relations Officer post remains with Elliot Bishop.
Veteran calypsonian, Elwin McQuilkin known as Black Wizard has been elected to serve on the NDC Executive as one of three floor member.
The others are former Health Minister Ann Peters and Petra Williams.
Mc Quilkin has expressed interest in the past in being a candidate for the St. Andrew South-west constituency currently held by Yolande Bain-Horsford, one of three victorious NNP candidates who were not offered portfolios by Prime Minister Mitchell.
In his maiden address as Political Leader which lasted just a little beyond 45 minutes, Sen. Burke extended his gratitude to a number of people.
He said the decision of the party delegates to elect him as the NDC Political Leader is an enviable task to try and fill the shoes of his predecessor Thomas, whom he described as someone that is unshakeable both in words and deeds to the core values of the party.
“I will never be able to fill the shoes of people like Tillman Thomas,’’ he told party members and supporters at a public meeting after the convention.
The new NDC Political Leader publicly thanked his predecessor for believing in him and giving him the opportunity, both in the NDC and in the Congress Government to serve the people of Grenada.
Sen. Burke who was once associated with the ill-fated Marxist 1979-83 Grenada Revolution joined NDC in 2000 to spearhead the party’s work in the St. George North-east constituency that he won in the 2003 and 2008 elections but lost in 2013 to NNP’s Tobias Clement.
Burke recalled that the ex-revolutionaries were warmly greeted by former Prime Minister Thomas who took the position not to crush the patriotic spirit of any Grenadian who is willing to serve the country, “and accepted our applications to join the National Democratic Congress.’’
Thomas was confined to the Richmond Hill prison as a political detainee by the revolutionaries.
Sen. Burke along with former Tourism Minister Peter David, and others who were prominent figures in the revolution such as Feron Lowe, Chester Humphrey, George Prime and late medical doctor, David Lambert became members of Congress.
However, due to political infighting within the NDC government of 2008 and 2013 that was believed to have been orchestrated by David, the party delegates at a convention held in September 2012 too the decision to expel ten so-called Rebels.
In his first major address as Political Leader of Congress, Burke
told supporters that the NDC was now much different with new players engaged in rebuilding and strengthening the organisation that has been in office on two occasions.
The new Congress boss extended the olive branch to those party members and supporters who left with the Group of Rebels like David and Humphrey.
“I must apologise to those who have had distressful moments,” he said as he issued a call for former supporters and close associates to have discussions with him on resolving those issues.
“I am willing to meet and discuss whatever were your complaints. There are always differences in family but we can come together and work things out,” he added
“I call on all of us, therefore, to move forward in unity and strength. I am absolutely confident that with the leadership of the New National Party we will go nowhere. Under the leadership of National Democratic Congress our country will advance,’’ he said.
The new NDC Political Leader expressed his satisfaction with the members elected to serve on the new executive.
“We can boast of an honest, credible leadership. We can boast of having patriotic and committed members in our rank. We can boast of a principled policy,’’ he said.
Sen. Burke who is a lawyer by profession now has the unenviable task of winning the confidence of the Grenadian electorate as the party continues its rebuilding process.
He recognised that the task ahead is very daunting, but is determined to make things happen for the good of Grenada.
The New National Party of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell won all 15 parliamentary seats in the February 19th 2013 general elections
General elections in Grenada are constitutionally due in 2018.