Exercises over the weekend in the United National Congress (UNC) and the Congress of the People (COP) bolstered the national commitment to democracy. The outcomes of both elections were also reminders of the pivotal role women continue to play in leadership, whether in Parliament or elsewhere.
In the end, the UNC election turned out to be no contest, with incumbent leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar receiving 20,328 votes. The nearest contender, Christine Newallo-Hosein, only managed 114 votes — less than one per cent of the overall votes cast. Arguably such a result suggests the race was more of a rubber-stamping of Persad-Bissessar’s place within her ranks.
However, that in itself does not detract from the fact that the party appears to have upheld the processes that allow every member an equal say in leadership. It is good when a party can have an open campaign and stick to democratic processes.
Though Persad-Bissessar regards unity as a key part of the formula for UNC success, the ability of members of her party to voice concerns and disagree with her were equally important in the now-concluded campaign.
Going into the election there were questions about the leader’s decision to bring the internal poll forward and one candidate, Vasant Bharath, withdrew citing concerns over process. Even after the elections, another member questioned the overall turnout at Sunday’s poll.
The UNC leader will have to work with a diversity of voices going forward. While discipline is certainly required, she will have to nonetheless listen to all stakeholders. The democratic process does not end with the election.
As for the COP’s new leader Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, her biggest challenge will be to command authority while not holding a seat in Parliament. She will also have to face the fact that her party now has a dismal record when it comes to elections and holds only one seat in Parliament.
That both leaders are women is a demonstration of the continued strides being made locally and internationally in the face of challenges to the notion of gender parity. Both leaders have a role to play in fostering the next generation of leaders, whatever their gender.
In contrast to the UNC and the COP, the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) saw no candidates coming forward to contest 12 positions, including that of leader. Trade unionist David Abdulah returns to the MSJ helm at a time when his party is struggling to carve out a place in a landscape dominated by the PNM and UNC.
Where next? With crippling crime, our politics must adjust itself. There is need for issues and plans to come to the forefront, not personalities. Politicians must serve the thousands of people who elected them. And the national community.