N Touch
Wednesday 17 July 2019
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Red line crossed

WE CONDEMN in the strongest possible terms the use of derogatory and racist language by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar at a political event on Monday.

The Opposition Leader’s remark, which likened Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to an “Oreo”, was unbecoming of her office in Parliament and of her position as a former prime minister. That she chose to make such a remark at the Union Presbyterian Primary School – a place of learning and education – is all the more reprehensible.

This is not the kind of example needed for our children, or for anyone for that matter. Not only must Persad-Bissessar apologise but she must be disciplined by her own party and resign.

Furthermore, the Siparia MP must immediately condemn the slew of racist remarks that have been provoked by her words and should face action by the inter-party council in charge of administering the Code of Ethical Political Conduct.

Freedom of expression is a constitutional right in this country, but the right of others not to be subjected to harm balances it. These remarks have gone too far. There can be no public interest justification for what Persad-Bissessar has said, no issue of public policy can be construed out of her words. This was, quite simply, a venomous personal attack.

The UNC political leader was the one who did nothing when Rowley was subject to vindictive personal attack by Vernella Alleyne-Toppin.

At the same time, the PNM has been responsible for deeply offensive statements and gestures such as the “Calcutta Ship” debacle. Persad-Bissessar would be the first to decry that she was slandered in the Emailgate matter. She might point to language used on PNM platforms such as “lagoon” and “cat” talk and a bizarre and vulgar skit at, of all things, a PNM family day event.

But for the latter offence, Rowley is on record as apologising even when he was not directly responsible. Yet, the issue is not the PNM’s record. Nor do two wrongs make a right. Persad-Bissessar cannot be held to a standard any different for that which applies to the Prime Minister. In fact, all public officials must be held to the same standards and those standards must, furthermore, be high.

Not only has the Opposition Leader engaged in a disappointing lapse of judgment, she has slandered the members of her own party by suggesting all share her views. Some, like Vasant Bharath, have already come out against her rhetoric. More should do so.

There is a clear role and function for an Opposition party in any democracy. By her gratuitous attack on Monday, Persad-Bissessar has gone beyond the parameters of her office and has crossed a red line in terms of what is expected of leaders in multicultural Trinidad and Tobago.

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