A Profile By Michael D. Roberts
As Trinidad and Tobago celebrates an historical milestone of 50 years of independence this CARICOM nation of just over 1.5 million people also celebrates another first – its first female Prime Minister and only the third in the Caribbean in 50 years. Kamla Persad-Bissessar joins Jamaica’s Portia Simpson-Miller and Dominica’s deceased Dame Eugenia Charles and her election is testimony to the political maturity of Trinidad and Tobago – a great sign for the future.
Of Indo-Trinidadian origin Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been elected the first woman Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago after the political coalition led by her won a crushing majority victory and ended the ruling Peoples National Movement’s (PNM) 43 year grip on political power. When the smoke cleared Ms. Persad-Bissessar’s People’s Partnership won 29 out of the 41 parliamentary seats in the elections held in May 2010.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar is grandmother of two and a devout Hindu. She is on record saying that she is grateful for the immense support from women and women’s groups across the country. She has pledged to implement programs and services that will help break the barriers that so many competent Trinidadian women face as the country celebrates 50 years of independence.
“I celebrate this victory on their behalf. But, the picture is much larger than any single group and those very women would be the first to acknowledge that,” Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar said.
Ms. Persad-Bissessar was an over-achiever in law school and did her Master’s Degree in business administration. She also holds a diploma in education from the University of the West Indies. She was the first woman attorney general of Trinidad and Tobago and also served stints as Minister of Legal Affairs as well as Minister of Education.
Her forefather was amongst the 148,000 Indian indentured servants and laborers who were brought to Trinidad and Tobago between 1845 and 1917 to work on the sugar and cocoa plantations. The Indian diaspora now comprises 44 percent of the population of Trinidad and Tobago’s 1.5 million people. Ms. Persad-Bissessar, who has represented her Siparia constituency for 15 years, had held the reins of power during the absence of then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday during the United National Congress (UNC) was in government.
She has become the first woman to lead any political party in oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago. Her meteoric rise began January 24, 2009 when she successfully challenged her mentor, Basdeo Panday, for the leadership of the United National Congress which he had founded 20 years ago.
Then Prime Minister Patrick Manning, the leader of the PNM, broke with tradition and dissolved the 41-seat parliament April 2009 and called for general elections May 24,2010 some 30 months before it was due constitutionally. That cost him and the PNM deadly. The PNM was touted in the polls.
But the movement to defeat the PNM was spearheaded by a coalition of opposition parties led by Ms. Persad-Bissessar. For the first time since independence in August 1962, a coalition of five opposition political parties joined to confront the ruling People’s National Movement which has been in power for 43 years.
The five parties were Ms. Persad-Bissessar’s United National Congress, Congress of the People (COP), the National Joint Action Committee, Tobago Organization of Peoples, and the Movement for Social Change. These parties came under the banner of the “People’s Partnership”, with each party maintaining its own symbol on the ballot.
The election was fought on several issues including massive corruption in all sectors of the national economy, the lack of medical facilities, a total breakdown in the infrastructural capacity and the mismanagement of the nation. Rising crime with over 3,000 people being murdered over the last eight years was also a key issue. Today, and now in power, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar faces all of these issues – and then some.
She has made some political mis-steps early in her tenure but has largely settled down in the job although there are many criticisms of her leadership style and favoring of her Indo-Trinidadian brethren over Afro-Trinidadians. But I’m sure that in the end Trinidadians and Tobagonians will settle this in their own way. Because in the end its, as they will tell you, “nobody’s business and mind yuh business.”
Carib News and the Caribbean Diaspora wishes Trinidad and Tobago and Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar the very best for the future. May the next 50 years be positive and meaningful.