Party politics at crossroads

In this file photo, Vasant Bharath is at the launch of his campaign for the leadership of the UNC in El Socorro on October 30. Photo by Angelo Marcelle. -
In this file photo, Vasant Bharath is at the launch of his campaign for the leadership of the UNC in El Socorro on October 30. Photo by Angelo Marcelle. -

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar came out fighting on Thursday night, keen to hold on to her role as the leader of the UNC.

Originally challenged by Vasant Bharath and Devant Maharaj, she now faces Mr Bharath for the leadership position and she wasn't having any of it.

"Where were you?” she demanded of Mr Bharath, pointedly declining even to name her opponent.

The Opposition Leader argued that the former People's Partnership minister had largely abandoned the party for the last five years.

While it was not accurate to describe his activities during that time as campaigning against the party, he certainly was no supporter of Mrs Persad-Bissessar.

UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar at her Siparia constituency office on election night, August 10. File photo/Marvin Hamilton -

In his efforts to woo voters in the internal elections, scheduled for December 6, Mr Bharath pointed out that the sitting Opposition Leader had led the party to 11 consecutive defeats in the polls for government and local government.

But he faces an uphill battle in his bid to unseat the incumbent.

Furthermore, Mr Bharath is not an elected MP, and hence cannot be the leader of the (parliamentary) Opposition.

Mr Bharath’s Unity is Strength slate of candidates features several others also known to be disenchanted with the party’s direction or who have been rejected by it in recent elections.

The support for the UNC in the 2020 general election was significant, despite the party’s loss.

This is a critical internal election for the party, which has defined itself as a largely unhelpful political opposition for years and must chart a course forward as a credible government-in-waiting.

Mr Bharath argues that the UNC is badly in need of revamping. He claims there have been only irregular meetings of the parliamentary arm, national congress and national assembly of the UNC.

He is not the first to point out these operational failings, which Mrs Persad-Bissessar has done little to address.

Mrs Persad-Bissessar challenges include acknowledging those aspects of the party’s functioning which are faltering, meeting the expectations of an Opposition in Parliament and acknowledging the enthusiasm of 18 party loyalists who have declared their willingness to work to improve the UNC despite doing so as a challenge to her leadership.

This is not a matter of interest merely to members or possible supporters of the party; few in this country are entirely satisfied with the way it is governed and the state of electoral politics. A democracy is only as strong as the opposition, and there can be few voters or citizens who believe that the current opposition is functioning at optimum capacity at present. This is not a time for ad-hominem attacks but for articulating strategy and forward thinking.

The party's membership must find a collective voice to demand accountability from those who offer themselves for leadership and, even after the election, insist on continuing investment in the party’s future.


"Party politics at crossroads"

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