The United National Congress is set to host another internal election this weekend with much riding on it for incumbent leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Those who oppose her believe she single-handedly led the party to defeat and has been unable to garner enough support for another chance at governing Trinidad and Tobago since her first success in 2010.
Much like when Mrs Persad-Bissessar squared off against then-incumbent Basdeo Panday in 2010, her current challenger Vasant Bharath is riding on a tide of perceived discontent at her inability to return the party to T&T’s political helm.
But history is not quite on Mr Bharath’s side. When Persad-Bissessar was challenging for the leadership, it was clear Panday no longer held political stock or his executive’s support. Persad-Bissessar’s ascendency was thus considered the revival the party needed and it proved right – since she got an overwhelming vote into office that year.
Forward to today, where Persad-Bissessar is facing a challenge to her ability to take the party forward, given that the public has rejected her leadership for the last two general elections.
Party members may be convinced there is need for change but are not necessarily convinced Bharath is the best option – or at least not as convinced as when they gave Persad-Bissessar the reins over two decades ago.
So the party now finds itself at an unusual crossroads.
Persad-Bissessar won the Siparia seat, is a sitting MP, leader of the opposition and still has the support of MPs whom she gave opportunities in this year’s General Election. If Bharath were to win, he faces the hurdle of trying to get the sitting MPs’ support and will be a leader outside the Parliament. Leader of the party but not in the Parliament.
A look at the supporters on each side shows clearly it is a case of the new UNC guard against the old. The old guard seems to have a more national mix than the Bharath-led team
True to form, it is playing out during the current campaign, where the two challengers are throwing dirt at each other with race still an issue and blame being shared around for the current state of the party. In the interim, neither Persad-Bissessar nor Bharath have yet presented any solid plan on how they will take the party out of its current rut.
When one considers that as the opposition, the UNC is the alternative government should anything happen with the incumbent People’s National Movement, it is truly disturbing that it seems devoid of the vision needed to revive parties in its current situation.
This should come as no surprise, since this same party recently withheld its support for the Anti-Crime Amendment Bill when the public is crying out for more intensified action on fighting crime and the scourge of gangs.
Sunday’s election activity is without doubt another critical juncture in the party’s history. Can it rise again? Only time and the vision of leadership committed to ensuring growth and survival will tell.