So far, 2010 has been very kind to Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Peter Richards

President Elect Kamla Presaud Bissesar

In February, she became the first woman to be elected Opposition Leader in Trinidad and Tobago, one month after she decisively got rid of the leader of the main opposition United National Congress (UNC), Basdeo Panday, in a bruising campaign in which she was portrayed as everything from a drunk to a weak leader.

“Kamla’s election was significant in that she was elected in a party that is ideologically rooted in a rural Indian cultural ideology that marginalises women even though it pretends to elevate them onto a pedestal,” wrote one blogger.

Political scientist Professor Selwyn Ryan said her victory “dynamited the politics of the country”, and that it also signalled that “Trinidad and Tobago is quite ready for a woman PM”. In fact, Ryan believes that she stands a very good chance of leading the People’s Partnership as the amalgam of five political parties and trade unions is called, to victory on May 24, noting that “it best suits the political and economic circumstances in which we find ourselves at this juncture.

“It is time for a change. We need to open up the political system and consider other governance options. We also need to lay to rest the ghost of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (that in 1986 inflicted the first defeat on the 54-year-old PNM, but later collapsed due to internal fighting), and the fear of coalitions which it has left us,” Ryan said.

And as she awaits the outcome of the general election, the 58-year-old attorney believes she has what it takes to get the population to “rise with me” which would be a complete turnaround from the address she gave party loyalists on becoming the UNC leader.

On that occasion, Persad-Bissessar insisted that one of the issues raised during the campaign was the party’s inability to convince the population that it was a government-in-waiting.

Now, with Prime Minister Patrick Manning calling the general election more than two years before the constitutional deadline, Persad-Bissessar stands on the threshold of becoming the first woman head of government in this oil-rich twin island republic.

If she wins, Persad-Bissessar will join the late Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Janet Jagan of Guyana and Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica who have headed governments in their respective Caribbean countries. She has asked the electorate in this multi-racial country to “take my hand and join me on this path” to what she has declared “liberation day” on May 24.

“Rarely can you point to a calendar and say ‘This is when freedom comes’,” said Persad-Bissessar whose campaign is benefitting from some of the U.S. election strategists who guided Barack Obama to the White House just over a year ago.

She said that her immediate task would be to stabilise the economy, rebuild the society and restore trust in the government.

“My immediate goal will be to introduce greater transparency and accountability in government and to ensure that our oil and gas wealth is truly used for the development of our nation and our people.”

Regarding her government’s relationship with the regional integration movement, CARICOM, Persad-Bissessar has said that it would be totally different from that of the last government. She said while “we must deepen and widen the integration movement … I do not agree with the method in which the incumbent has been operating within the CARICOM or the OECS.

“It is still the same method that is used in governing Trinidad and Tobago. It is the hand out and the ‘gimme’ syndrome and the dependency syndrome, so Trinidad and Tobago wants to be the father of the nation or the big brother of CARICOM, that is not the way,” she told CMC.

The Network of NGOs of Trinidad said her election suggests that the local electorate is maturing into greater awareness of the value of gender-mainstreaming and the concept that all issues are women’s issues.

“Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s clean, clear and focused campaign also signals the kind of ‘new politics’ that women can bring to the political landscape,” Dr. Kris Rampersad, the international relations director of The Network said.

Political analyst Dr. Indira Rampersad described the victory as a “tidal wave” noting that the voters have made a statement. “But she will be under intense scrutiny. The focus now will be on her and her performance,” said Rampersad.

First published on Tuesday 25th May 2010

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