UNC members go to the polls today (Sunday) to decide whether incumbent political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is given another opportunity to restore the party to its former glory or that responsibility is given instead to her sole challenger, former Barataria/San Juan MP Dr Fuad Khan.
The political leader's post is one of three posts on the UNC's national executive (Natex) being contested. Former UNC MPs Ramona Ramdial and Dr Glenn Ramdharsingh are challenging Don Sylvester and Couva North MP Ravi Ratiram for the elections officer and party organiser posts respectively.
Sylvester and Ratiram are members of Persad-Bissessar's Star Team slate. Khan, Ramdial and Ramadharsingh are contesting the elections as independent candidates. They are not collaborating with each other. They are neither leading nor part of any slate.
Some 17 other posts on the Natex are unchallenged, with the candidates for those posts all being members of the Star Team slate. They include Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, who is contesting one of three deputy political posts, and Oropouche West MP Dave Tancoo who is standing for re-election as UNC chairman.
Persad-Bissessar was first elected UNC political leader on January 24, 2010, when she defeated party founder and former prime minister Basdeo Panday in a landslide victory for that post. Five months later, she was elected prime minister when the UNC-led People's Partnership (PP) won the May 24, 201 general election.
After the PP lost the September 7, 2015 general election to the PNM, Persad-Bissessar retained the UNC's leadership when she defeated Moonilal and former St Augustine MP Vasant Bharath for the post in the party's internal elections on December 6, 2015.
She polled 5,477 votes. Moonilal and Bharath received 1,466 and 1,102. She retained her post for a third time when she defeated Bharath in the UNC's internal elections on December 6, 2020. Persad-Bissessar received 5,455 votes while Bharath received 2,193.
At a meeting of her Star Team in Barrackpore on June 10, Persad-Bissessar promised the elections would be free and fair.
“Everything is above board,”
She warned UNC members and supporters that "evil forces are out there so you good people come out and cast your votes and bring those who can help us to put the votes in.”
Persad-Bissessar said the elections were not just about party leadership but the beginning of a journey to take the UNC back into government.
While the odds are seemingly stacked against him, some people believe that Khan could cause an upset and defeat Persad-Bissessar.
On June 6, Bharath believed Khan has a chance of defeating her if the playing field was level.
He cited the UNC's weekly Monday night forum as a platform used by Persad-Bissessar and her slate to campaign for the internal elections "when others are not afforded the same opportunity." Bharath believed having different people as UNC political leader and opposition leader could be the best option to rebuild the UNC into a strong political vehicle.
Khan is advocating a dual leadership system with him as political leader while Persad-Bissessar remains as opposition leader.
Bharath claimed that an autocracy has been created in the UNC, as all of its major organs have been allowed to fade into oblivion "so that the leader has complete control."
Political analyst Shane Mohammed said Khan is one of the more formidable candidates to challenge Persad-Bissessar for the UNC's leadership.
Khan has been a longstanding UNC member since 1995, has vast political and parliamentary experience and was personally mentored by UNC founder Basdeo Panday.
Mohammed said Khan "has the capacity and the charisma to listen to everyone." Khan is also open to the UNC partnering with other political parties, he said, while Persad-Bissessar is not.
"The UNC needs a breath of fresh air. The UNC needs a new leader, a new perspective, a new approach, a new ideology, a new philosophy."
Khan, Ramdial and Ramadharsingh are putting their faith in UNC members who disagree with the state of affairs in the party to send a clear signal in the elections.
They have been primarily using social media to campaign.
Khan said, ""I am not going to cry and say it is an unfair advantage." He added, "I went into it (elections) knowing full well that they (Star Team) have the resources."
Khan hoped UNC members who are fed up with this kind of behaviour in the party "will come out and vote for me for change."
Ramdial called for all card-holding UNC members to be allowed to vote on June 26. She recalled that before 2015, UNC members with party cards were allowed to vote in internal elections even if their names were not on the voters' list.
Ramadharsingh said his goal was to give the UNC options for the party organiser position. He is challenging Couva North MP Ravi Ratiram, a member of the Star Team, for that post.
He has been promoting himself through social media postings. Ramadharsingh has a Facebook video in which he speaks about his history in the UNC and says people should not be selected to positions "in awe of the leader and not performance."
While having no problem with Persad-Bissessar as political leader, Ramadharsingh said, "If we (UNC) want to win the government, we have to show we are a party with a difference."
A North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) opinion survey release on June 22 predicted a clean sweep for Persad-Bissessar and her slate in the elections.
The survey also reported that interest in the elections is low. According to NACTA, many UNC members, supporters and floating voters do not believe that Persad-Bissessar and her slate can sway the electorate's view of the UNC as an alternative government to the PNM
Political leader: Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Dr Fuad Khan
Chairman: Dave Tancoo
Deputy political leaders: Dr Roodal Moonilal, David Lee, Jearlean John
Vice-chairman: Khadijah Ameen
Education officer: Vandana Mohit
Research officer: Saddam Hosein
Elections officer: Don Sylvester, Ramona Ramdial
Party organiser: Ravi Ratiram, Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh
Treasurer: Neil Gosine
Tobago regional co-ordinator: Taharqa Obika
Policy and strategy co-ordinator: Sean Sobers
International relations officer: Wilfred Morris
South co-ordinator: Shanti Boodram
Central co-ordinator: Barry Padarath
Northwest co-ordinator: Eli Zakour
Northeast co-ordinator: Anil Roberts
With the exception of Khan, Ramdial and Ramadharsingh, all other candidates are members of the Star Team.