Gary writes to Kamla: ‘What of NTA/UNC alliance?’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

HAPPIER TIMES: UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and NTA leader Gary Griffith at a joint meeting at the SWWTU Hall on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain on July 19, 2023. The parties had announced an alliance heading into the local government election. – File photo

NATIONAL Transformation Alliance (NTA) interim political leader Gary Griffith has written to United National Congress (UNC) leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to ask her to clarify their standing, and slammed her public “outbursts” against him.

The parties formed an alliance to contest the August 2023 local government elections (LGE).

A general election is due by the end of 2025 and the parties were expected to collaborate again, but Griffith’s letter, sent on June 12, emphasised the divide between them and the probable fate of a similar alliance.

Griffith said Persad-Bissessar has not been communicating with the party in recent months. He said he finds this strange since the alliance was able to garner 60,000 more votes than their mutual enemy, the People’s National Movement (PNM), in last year’s LGE. According to a preliminary report on the election from the Election and Boundaries Commission, the PNM received 130,868 votes while the UNC and NTA received a combined total of 189,958.

This was why he called for the UNC leader to clarify their relationship.

“As political leader of the NTA, I personally walked with many of your candidates almost daily, as requested by your good self, particularly in the San Fernando and Sangre Grande Corporations, and for every five non-PNM houses, at least one or two of those households stated that they were not going to vote because they were fed up with the status quo.

“In most cases, these persons identified as previous Congress of the People supporters who were now willing to give the NTA a chance.

“I believe that the NTA’s influence in these areas played a major role in making inroads in San Fernando and Sangre Grande. It is for this reason we find it strange that over the last few months, your communication with the NTA has all but ceased.”

Griffith reiterated his party’s intention to contest the general election, with or without the alliance.

But he told Persad-Bissessar history shows the UNC cannot defeat the PNM on its own, saying the only time this happened was in 2000, but the victory only lasted a few months. MPs Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Trevor Sudama and Ralph Maraj left the party, led to a snap general election in 2001. This resulted in an 18-18 tie and then opposition leader Patrick Manning (deceased) being appointed prime minister by late president Arthur NR Robinson.

“The NTA is not begging for a home; we are quite prepared to go it alone and give the citizens a third option. Our supporters are made up of those who comprise the bridge constituency in that they are independent thinkers and voters. Interestingly, it is this group that continues to decide the outcome of national elections in Trinidad and Tobago.

“We will therefore appreciate it if you would be so kind as to advise us if you intend to pursue any future relationship with us, or whether you intend to do exactly what was done by your good self in the last two general elections which was to go alone.”

Two weeks ago Griffith told Newsday if the alliance does not stand, the NTA will contest all 41 seats and direct the majority of its political resources into key marginal constituencies of which the PNM and UNC must win a majority to be elected to government in 2025.

Although the UNC and NTA said they intended to contest the general election as an alliance, they began diverging in January 2024. By February, Griffith would lob scathing criticisms at Persad-Bissessar after she publicly said the UNC will not be disrespected by smaller parties and those parties should carry their weight and not “play the fool” with the 300,000-strong UNC.

Griffith then said Persad-Bissessar was being misguided by UNC deputy political leader Jearlean John into believing the party could win the upcoming election by itself. He raised the issue again in his letter to the UNC leader, especially after she commented on his belief at a June 10 Monday night forum.

“You do not get to determine what I cannot say about Jearlean John, and even worse, you do not get to bring it into UNC internal issues, especially when there was never any recent statement by me about Ms John. In fact, I have consciously and deliberately stayed out of the UNC internal issues, not declaring preference for any group.

“On behalf of the NTA and many others inside and outside of your political party, we seek clarity to ascertain what rationale can you give to justify going on a political platform, mere days before a UNC internal election and two LGE by-elections of which the NTA has no part, to threaten me as a fellow political leader who was at your side just a few months ago in the LGE.”

Speaking at the forum on June 10, Persad-Bissessar said: “I’m telling Gary Griffith to leave John alone. She’s an elected deputy of a party and on Saturday she will again be elected as DPL. Leave her alone…don’t take our kindness for weakness.”

Griffith reiterated that the NTA does not intend to be a part of any “political domestic violence” by the UNC or any other political party.

Newsday tried to get a comment from Persad-Bissessar but calls and WhatsApp messages went unanswered. When contacted, John denied knowledge of the letter and declined to comment.