Trinidad to swear in new PM Wednesday

Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister-elect Keith Rowley speaks to reporters outside the presidential palace in Port-of-Spain on September 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Alva Viarruel)

Port of Spain (AFP) - Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister-elect Keith Rowley will be sworn into office Wednesday, after voters in the twin-island nation backed his calls for change amid an economic contraction.

Rowley's party, the People's National Movement, won 23 of 41 seats in general elections Monday, ousting prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar after five years in power.

Rowley, a 65-year-old vulcanologist, vowed to keep his campaign pledge to name a smaller cabinet than his predecessor.

"That is a commitment that I made and I intend to keep to that. To compress things into a smaller bottle requires a little more time," he told journalists Wednesday after meeting President Anthony Carmona, the largely ceremonial head of state.

Rowley also met with losing candidates at his party's headquarters, in keeping with his campaign promise to include them in his government.

It was a punishing election for Persad-Bissessar and her coalition, the People's Partnership, which lost 11 of the seats it previously held.

The outgoing prime minister struggled at the end of her term to fend off corruption allegations, concerns about violent crime and an economic downturn.

Her claims of stabilizing the economy despite a drop in the islands' oil and gas revenues were debunked by statistics released three days before the vote indicating the economy contracted by 1.2 percent and shed more than 20,000 jobs in the first quarter of the year.

"The people of Trinidad and Tobago made an intervention yesterday that is satisfying to most of us," Rowley said.

Persad-Bissessar's coalition also had to battle an upstart splinter party launched by disgraced football honcho Jack Warner, her erstwhile ally.

Warner, a political heavyweight in his home country, is currently battling extradition to the United States after being indicted in the sweeping US probe into allegations of massive corruption at FIFA.

He launched the Independent Liberal Party after Persad-Bissessar sacked him from her cabinet two years ago, and put up 21 candidates in Monday's vote, including himself.

The party ran mainly in districts where a split would damage the ruling coalition. It ultimately failed to win any seats, but Warner welcomed the prime minister's loss as a victory.