Five years later, trouble brewing for Persad-Bissessar in T&T

T&T prime minister promises no job cuts
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Associated Press / Rob Griffith

When nearly a million eligible voters cast their ballots in Trinidad’s general elections back in May of 2010, they did so with the firm belief that no new government could match the inefficiency levels and stubbornness of the previous Patrick Manning administration, which was running the oil and gas-rich Caribbean trade bloc nation at the time.

Now, five years after electing attorney Kamla Persad-Bissessar as the island’s first woman prime minister with an overwhelming parliamentary majority, polls are showing that the incumbent People’s Partnership administration is in the fight of its life and could well be confined to opposition assembly benches by late Monday.

Back then, many in the multiracial twin island republic with Tobago had cast aside traditional racial considerations and had voted for the coalition, including many long-time supporters of the Afro-dominated People’s National Movement. The partnership is led by the Hindu-supported United National Congress of which the prime minister is the leader.

But if the polls are correct come Monday, victory for the Movement would represent an astonishing turnaround for a party which had refused to listen to the populace on a number of issues, including the imposition of a hated property tax, and had paid the ultimate price by being kicked out of office.

It would also represent an amazing fall from grace for the country’s first woman prime minister as her partnership was given 29 of the 41 seats in the Parliament, allowing it to pass key legislation without any reference to legislators on the opposition side of the house.

Latest polls have shown that instead of increasing or maintaining her number of seats, the prime minister’s fate now hangs in the balance of about seven to 10 marginal seats which opinion surveys show might well trend towards the opposition.

“Kamla Persad-Bissesar has good reason to fear today,” wrote newspaper columnist Rhona Baptiste,” as she commented of more than half a dozen general elections in the Caribbean trade bloc this year alone. The last was in Suriname in late May.

As was the case in elections in neighboring Guyana with a similar racial make-up in early May, widespread corruption, graft, and greed are the main issues in addition to violent crime, drug trafficking, and the state of an economy that is still dominated by oil and gas, both of which the twin island has in abundance.

Talk radio is filled with complaints about how those close to the administration, family, and friends in particular, have made millions through the award of contracts for dubious projects and services to the chagrin of many in the country of 1.3 million people.

There are several marginal seats that the partnership won comfortably five years ago that are up for grabs, and authorities have to contend with a spirited campaign by disgruntled partnership members for voters to spoil their ballots.

Former disgruntled Senate President Tim Hamel-Smith said his movement has targeted 30 percent of the electorate with messages urging them to spoil their vote, a move that could undermine the head of government’s party in marginal areas.

Another factor affecting the incumbent partnership has to do with former security minister Austin Jack Warner who quit about two years ago, formed his own party and won a seat. He may well end up holding the balance of power if the results are close or are 20–20 as polls predict, down from 29 of the 41 in 2010. Still the Prime Minister says she remains hopeful.

“I am very encouraged and very inspired right now that we will win this election. People have freedom of choice, it’s a democracy. It will not make a difference. I say to people to vote, make sure and cast your vote, cast your vote for the partnership candidate, so we can continue the progress that we’ve begun for the next five years, that’s what I’ll say to everyone,” she said.

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