PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — Former Trinidad and Tobago prime minister and current opposition leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, received overwhelming popular support from her United National Congress (UNC) members in internal party elections on Saturday and retained the position of political leader.
The margin of victory was so great from early returns that, within three hours of starting to count ballots, party faithful were celebrating her runaway victory over Dr Roodal Moonilal, her former deputy, who served as housing and urban renewal minister until the party’s defeat in the September 7 general elections.
Persad-Bissessar has therefore cemented herself at the helm of a party that holds 18 seats in the 41-seat Legislature despite sometimes acrimonious criticism of her handling of the recent general election campaign and loss of government.
She held her ground and the party membership renewed her mandate by an unprecedented margin hinted by early returns that a virtual concession was made long before half the votes had been counted.
This result assures her that she also retains her position of opposition leader in the lower chamber. Big losers included chairman hopeful Dr Tim Gopeesingh, the former education minister, who will likely be lowered down the pecking order despite his seniority in the party.
Persad-Bissessar now has to rebuild her party, whose organs have not functioned under her leadership, a fact that became the central theme of the campaigns against retaining her in the leadership position.
All eyes will now be upon the opposition leader to see if she re-appoints her former trade minister, the highly respected Vasant Bharath, to the Senate as a show of magnanimity given her political utterances that she could not work with her detractors after the results were in. Bharath also contested the leadership position but ran a distant third.
According to local media, defeated leadership candidate Moonilal intends to seek legal advice following alleged irregularities in the election process on Saturday.
Speaking to the media on Saturday night, Moonilal said his attorneys were reviewing a series of events, including the rejection of some 2,000-plus supporters to cast their votes.