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Vasant Bharath answers questions during a press confernce at his campaign headquarters in El Socorro, yesterday.

United National Congress (UNC) political leader candidate Vasant Bharath has again challenged Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to debate him publicly before the party’s internal elections on December 6.

Bharath issued the challenge for a second time during a press conference at his campaign headquarters at Cyrus Trace, El Socorro, yesterday afternoon.

“I challenge her to a debate. Come and ask me the hard questions you claim that you are not afraid to ask. Come and debate me for the leadership. Step out of your ivory tower and into the real world,” he said.

“I say do not stand on a stage surrounded by your cheerleaders and hurl accusations at me. Come and ask me yourself.”

During the press conference, Bharath and members of his slate raised several alleged irregularities with the upcoming poll. He took aim at an incident last week, in which a voice note, purportedly of Persad-Bissessar discussing the development of the rules for the elections, was shared on social media a day before the election committee issued its official rules. He rejected the explanation given by Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial that the rules referred to were for Persad-Bissessar’s slate and polling officials and not for the elections committee as claimed.

Bharath said it would be impossible to set such rules without having sight of the rules set by the election committee.

“Regretfully I am of the view—and many others would hold this view—that these rules were created by Mrs Persad-Bissessar and her team and given to the elections committee,” he said. Bharath also claimed that MPs loyal to Persad-Bissessar had instructed staff in their constituency offices to call UNC members to campaign for her.

“I call on her to investigate the conduct or acknowledge that this is being done with her consent,” he said, as he also noted that constituency executive officers were improperly endorsing Persad-Bissessar. He also claimed Persad-Bissessar’s slate is improperly using the UNC’s social media pages for her campaign.

“They are for the benefit of the party and are not meant to advance the interests of any one individual. The party must be always bigger than any one member, leader included,” Bharath said. He also questioned the election committee’s decision to set five polling stations in the Siparia constituency the highest of any constituency, with the final membership list expected to be published today.

“Logically any fair and unbiased elections committee would look at the final membership list and then allot the polling stations according to the number of voters in each geographic area,” he said.

Asked if his team would be mounting any legal challenge against the committee before the election, Bharath saud such action would be the last resort as they are hopeful that the committee will act responsibly once the issues are raised in the “court of public opinion.”

“Despite all of the irregularities, despite all of the lack of integrity in this process, my team and I would be contesting these elections. we do not intend to throw our hands up in the air, like other candidates, and surrender,” Bharath said.

Bharath said he and his team are committed to continuing to advocate for change as the party could not expect to win another national election without evolving.

“We will continue to advocate for change, whether it be by the route of changing the national executive and the leader, or whether it is through badgering them if we have to, to ensure that significant changes take place in the hierarchy of the party that allows the party the room to breathe and grow,” he said. In the event that he is elected, Bharath promised to immediately start the process of reforming the party to attract new membership.

“The style of governance of the UNC will change dramatically once we take over the party. Once we are in a position to determine where this party goes, we will ensure that this party is so reformed that it would attract people outside of our base because they would understand and believe in the new philosophy of this party, which is ensuring we bring everyone together and do what is best for all of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.