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Vasant Bharath

Gail Alexander

United National Congress’ Vasant Bharath, Ramona Ramdial, Devant Maharaj and Larry Lalla have all pelted back responses to party leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s criticism and challenge for detractors to challenge her for the leadership.

Persad-Bissessar issued the “fight” call at the UNC’s Monday night “Report” meeting, where she also devoted time to fighting the People’s National Movement Government.

On UNC issues, Persad-Bissessar said she’d seen some people crying like “little ants or flies” and said she will battle her challengers in the internal election.

“I understand they’re looking for someone who wants to challenge me as none of them want to put their name next to mine. So don’t worry… that is the democracy is it not? Some people didn’t get a seat, whether in the Senate or Lower House and they vex…they want to mash up the whole castle, they want to mash up everything. But they will not succeed and they know they won’t succeed,” Persad-Bissessar said.

“So you know what happened? They’re not calling for the internal election. You know if you really truly wanted to play a part in a democratic party, you’d call for the election. No. They want me to resign. I am not resigning. I will call and the party will call for the internal election when it’s due.”

The internal election is expected later this year.

Bharath was among those who responded directly to Persad- Bissessar.

He said, “I, like most people, believed and would have expected Monday’s UNC meeting to have been a post mortem of why UNC lost election yet again. But it was the same tired commentary and formula that’s so often failed.

“Holding on to at all costs and putting herself above the party’s needs is among the usual hallmarks of dictators – as is referring to people as ‘ants and flies’ and also saying as Mrs Persad- Bissessar did, that none of her challengers could ‘never hope to be as bright as she is’. These are almost hallucinatory, delusional remarks.”

On if he’ll seek leadership, Bharath said briefly without commenting further, “She’s called out challengers – I’m more than happy to participate in rebuilding the organisation,”

Bharath unsuccessfully contested the leadership in 2015. He’d also indicated intention to contest in 2017 but didn’t after citing irregularities in the voting process.

He said Persad-Bissessar was within her right to want to contest the leadership again but he noted that under the Westminster system T&T follows, defeated leaders normally step aside and allow their party to breathe.

“As Jamaica’s Peter Phillips did recently….” Bharath said.

He said leaders enjoy incumbency and usually as a result, have strategies based on party machinery and loyalty from officers and members. But Bharath said relinquishing office assists the party to have the necessary growth to fight an election.

“UNC desperately needs reforms. Every institution is broken. It doesn’t allow members to participate in any rebuilding processes. That needs to change if we are to compete in elections.”

Former UNC Couva North MP Ramdial, who’s recently challenged issues in the party, said she felt Persad-Bissessar was referring to all possible contenders. But noting Persad-Bissessar’s reference to “woman to woman,” she agreed she’d been very vocal recently calling out the UNC on a lack of post-election analysis and issues with the Natex and the general secretary and PRO maintaining posts although they’re now elected MPs.

Ramdial added, “Someone may want to muzzle me but that won’t intimidate me. When the party calls polls, we’ll see … I’d consider contesting a post but not the leadership at this time. I’ll support a candidate for that post. It depends on whose name comes up.”

She added, “The leader apparently launched her campaign (Monday). I’m very disappointed in the statements. However, will this leadership election also involve a UNC National Executive election since the Natex’s poll is overdue by two years.”

Maharaj who’s led calls for Persad-Bissessar to “go” and put up a fresh billboard with that call on Tuesday, added. “The leader’s assertion that she’s brighter than others in the UNC and isn’t stepping down reeks of arrogance and hubris. Given the kindergarten crop of MPs imposed for the general election, Kamla maybe indeed the smartest of the lot – but by no stretch of the imagination is she the smartest person in UNC.”

Attorney Lalla said he hasn’t decided if he’d contest the election. He said he’d support someone for the leadership whom he thinks might better position the UNC.

Lalla added, “It’s rather unfortunate the political leader would see fit to use the party’s virtual forum to launch her personal campaign for leader. The obvious question arising is whether she’ll afford the same opportunity to anyone who decides to challenge her – would they be allowed time on UNC’s virtual meeting to also launch their campaign?”

“Coming out of two recent consecutive election losses she hasn’t chosen a path that gives any confidence that she’s learned from those losses. The UNC’s suffered tremendously under her. Foremost in my mind is the party’s interests and the country’s going forward – UNC isn’t in business to fight for second place continuously.”