UNC MPs break rank: ‘We can’t win under Kamla’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition MP Dinesh Rambally. File Photo

CHAGUANAS West MP Dinesh Rambally says for the United National Congress (UNC) to succeed in the next general election, its political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar must go.

At a press conference at the Divali Nagar in Chaguanas on Friday, Rambally said instead of the party running on principles, it was being run according to personalities and on press releases.

“It is not a royal family affair. It is political suicide to throw your name in the leadership ring under the present UNC regime.”

He referred to the “political dog house” where his colleagues, MPs Rushton Paray, Anita Haynes, Rai Ragbir and Rodney Charles, who have publicly called for internal elections, have found themselves. Charles attended Rambally’s news briefing but did not speak to the issues.

Rambally said it was difficult for the public to ignore the political perceptions and the UNC must confront its shortcomings if the party wants to win the next general election.

“What we do in the present determines the future. The UNC’s inability to win the next election or any election stems from the continued failure of the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar.”

Rambally, one of the dissenting voices against the leadership of the UNC and an advocate for timely internal elections, broke ranks with his party as he questioned the lack of accountability and transparency and likened the management and structure to a “cult.”

He said internal elections were not only about internal party matters but about accountability to the wider population so they could view the UNC as a credible alternative to government.

“Blindly following a party leader will never allow us to find our way back into government,” he said as he demanded the internal elections be held now.

Calling for a restructuring of the party, he took aim at the leadership saying there was no accountability or transparency for the portion of salaries MPs must donate to the party.

“No one knows the status of the party’s headquarters building fund. We are unaware of whether the party is in debt.”

Rambally was accompanied by religious heads including Maha Sabha’s general secretary Vijay Maharaj, National Council of Indian Culture vice president Surujdeo Mangaroo, Dharmacharya Pundit Dr Rampersad Parasram and Imam Rasheed Karim.

He asked why under the democratic system, “it has been so seemingly dishonourable to challenge the leadership of the incumbent.”

He said there are too many issues of credibility and allegations of wrongdoing that will not be shaken off, alluding to accusations from the Prime Minister about “a human trafficker” on the Opposition benches in the Parliament.

Rambally, demonstrating how he cowers in shame every time such allegations are made against his colleagues, asked, “How then can we expect to be relevant to today’s intelligent and discerning electorate?”

He said after losing two consecutive general elections, he has not seen any indication from Persad-Bissessar that she has learnt from her mistakes or can correct them.

No post-mortem was held after the 2023 local government elections, which he said the UNC did not win, despite Persad-Bissessar’s claim to the contrary, as it failed to win any new corporation or make any significant inroads into marginal areas.

“If the UNC cannot generate public support beyond its core base against the worst PNM government in history, then the future of the UNC and, indeed, the country is in serious jeopardy.

“For all these reasons, there must be a clear distinction in how the party is to be run versus how it has been running.

“Under the present leadership, there is no provision of an environment to have a discussion that is truly free and informative.” He said one never knows the agenda of any UNC meeting.

“Nothing starts on time or runs on time and everything is nocturnal… Very rarely do we meet before debating bills or matters affecting the party as a whole, so we are unable to properly caucus positions which we are required to do for the sake of intellectual and political integrity and mutual support amongst members.

“Parliamentary debates on government policy that require in-depth analysis are often neglected, with little or no co-ordination before debates on key bills.”

He said on more than one occasion, Opposition MPs debated on bills without knowing the party’s stance until it was time for the House to vote.

He also accused Persad-Bissessar of politicising crime.

Rambally said he was placing his political life on the altar to bring meaningful change, although he knew this would set a political bullseye on his back.