UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and party members on stage at the Couva South Multipurpose Hall, Couva. – File photo by Marvin Hamilton
FORMER Barataria/ San Juan MP Dr Fuad Khan can defeat incumbent UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the party’s internal elections on June 26, once those elections are free and fair.
These were the views expressed on Monday by former St Augustine MP Vasant Bharath, former Couva North MP Ramona Ramdial and political analyst Shane Mohammed.
Bharath, who unsuccessfully challenged Persad-Bissessar for the UNC’s leadership in the party’s internal elections on December 6, 2020, believed Khan has a chance of defeating her if the playing field was level.
But he said, “The odds are heavily stacked in Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s favour, because she not only controls the process but also manipulates it.”
Bharath claimed only Persad-Bissessar appoints the members of the elections committee; determines the names of UNC members on the voters’ list; when the list is released to competitors, void of any relevant details; has people in voting stations to direct UNC members to vote for her and her slate; and uses party resources to campaign for the internal elections
He cited the UNC’s weekly Monday night forum as a platform used by Persad-Bissessar and her slate to campaign for the internal elections “when others are not afforded the same opportunity.”
Bharath believed having different people as UNC political leader and opposition leader could be the best option to rebuild the UNC into a strong political vehicle.
“The reality is that the party has no functioning institutions, eg no party groups, no constituency executives, no functioning youth and women’s arms, etc.” Bharath said an autocracy has been created in the UNC, as all of its major organs have been allowed to fade into oblivion “so that the leader has complete control.”
The UNC continues to remain nationally unattractive while Persad-Bissessar and her loyalists remain at its helm, Bharath said.
“I am aware that many people of capacity and credibility have offered to assist but have been rejected because of Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s own insecurities.”
The UNC, he continued, has become a cult which praises Persad-Bissessar every time it speaks. “The party is perceived as ‘Hindu,’ with a few token outsiders for window-dressing, and with no real decision-making power.”
The shifting of the UNC’s headquarters from Couva to San Fernando has also contributed to its diminished image as a national party.
Bharath does not believe that Persad-Bissessar is a racist. But he said she is “just intellectually incapable of understanding the repercussions and consequences of what she says.”
Bharath reiterated, “She is simply unfit for office and is the PNM’s greatest asset.”
Ramdial, who is contesting the post of elections officer on June 26, said, “If the election process is free and fair, he (Khan) will win.”
She claimed there were several discrepancies in the 2020 internal elections which were not addressed.
“This time I intend to write said committee with our requests and recommendations for a fair process.”
Ramdial said only Khan has the capability to make the UNC attractive nationally again.
“Again, the issue is one of unity.” Ramdial said Persad-Bissessar and her followers have done nothing to grow the party’s membership and have sidelined many UNC members for years.
Mohammed said Khan is one of the more formidable candidates to challenge Persad-Bissessar for the UNC’s leadership. Khan has been a longstanding UNC member since 1995, has vast political and parliamentary experience and was personally mentored by UNC founder Basdeo Panday.
“He has the capacity and the charisma to listen to everyone. He is not an authoritarian.”
Khan is also open to the UNC partnering with other political parties, he said, while Persad-Bissessar is not.
Should Khan be elected political leader, Mohammed saw him working with other members of the UNC national executive (natex) who are aligned to Persad-Bissessar. He identified UNC MPs Dr Roodal Moonilal, Saddam Hosein and Barry Padarath as people with whom Khan has good working relationships. But Mohammed doubted the elections will be free and fair
Referring to Tobago House of Assembly Minority Leader Kelvon Morris and new PNM Tobago Council leader Ancil Dennis, Mohammed said, “The PNM has shown that the whole notion that a political leader (Dennis) and a parliamentary leader (Morris) can work.”
There was no reason why Khan and Persad-Bissessar could not do the same as political leader and opposition leader respectively. Khan would be in charge of the UNC’s business while Persad-Bissessar would run its affairs in Parliament.
Mohammed said Persad-Bissessar would also use her constitutional power as opposition leader to have President Paula-Mae Weekes appoint Khan an opposition senator so he could be aware of the UNC’s activities there.
Mohammed was not surprised that Dr Roodal Moonilal was contesting a deputy political leader’s post. Moonilal unsuccessfully challenged Persad-Bissessar as political leader in 2015.
“It is her way of strategically controlling him both in the Parliament and in the natex.”
Mohammed believed as a deputy leader, Moonilal would not challenge Persad-Bissessar on any issue inside or outside Parliament, in the hope of succeeding her as leader.
Mohammed also observed that many experienced former UNC-led People’s Partnership coalition government ministers are unwilling to help the party rebuild while Persad-Bissessar remains its leader.
“The UNC needs a breath of fresh air. The UNC needs a new leader, a new perspective, a new approach, a new ideology, a new philosophy.”