United National Congress (UNC) leadership hopeful Vasant Bharath has challenged the current leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, to a public televised debate.
At the very least, Bharath wants an equal space and time in the party’s Monday Night forum to debate leadership issues.
He called for the debate yesterday, saying he wants Persad-Bissessar to declare publicly what her plans are for rebuilding the UNC as a national party and regaining public trust.
Outlining the five successive national defeats the UNC has suffered, including the 2015 general election, Bharath said, yesterday, he was curious as to what lessons the party had learnt so that they could be converted into a victory at the next general election. He also wants to engage Persad-Bissessar on economic and social issues facing the country, as well as other relevant matters for the development of the party and progress of the nation.
Persad-Bissessar could not be reached for comment on a November 9 letter which Bharath dispatched to her home in Philippine, near San Fernando. The letter invites her to a public televised debate with him “manos a manos.”
Bharath offered Persad-Bissessar the alternative, saying if that is not possible, then equal space and time at the Monday night forum would suffice. He has accused the UNC leader of using party resources to mount her personal campaign for the internal elections via the forum.
Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, yesterday, denied that charge, saying that, as a candidate in the internal elections, Persad-Bissessar obviously spent a few minutes on the leadership issue at last Monday’s forum in Couva, but her discourse was widespread. Moonilal had advice for his former cabinet colleague, saying Bharath should not waste time fighting about membership lists or public debates with Persad-Bissessar.
Moonilal was badly defeated by Persad-Bissessar for the political-leader post in 2015.
He said, “My thinking is that persons who are contesting the election should be busy on the ground, taking their arguments to the members who have to vote, rather than quarrelling in the media over a list and over a debate.” Moonilal said the UNC did not have a tradition of public debates and the long-standing tradition is that candidates set their own meetings and campaign agendas. He suggested that because Bharath was unable to attract a crowd, he was looking for a ready-made audience via the Monday night forum.
In the circumstances, the UNC deputy political leader said, “To Christine Newallo-Hosein and Mr Bharath, my advice to them would be to hit the ground running. Don’t waste too much time on other matters. They should take their arguments to the people rather than make kuchoor in the press.”
Moonilal also waded in on the race for leadership, calling it democracy at work. He said activist Ravi B Maharaj has also thrown his hat in the ring for the leadership post.
“It is part of the democracy of the party any member of the party is free to contest any position,” Moonilal said.
Princes Town MP Barry Padarath also advised his leader to reject her challenger’s call for a public debate, on the basis that he was not in her league. “First and foremost, Mr Bharath is not Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s equal. If he wishes to have a public debate, first he must tell the membership of the party where he has been for the past two years. He can’t want to stand up on the outside and pelt big stones inside.”
Persad-Bissessar was scheduled to address a meeting at Padarath’s constituency office last night.