Kamla enters the lion’s den


Despite controversies around each one, two brave, well-composed, high-profile women continue to stand their ground – Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, and Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher.

Ms Harewood-Christopher is now lawfully tested and passed with a second extension in office. Whatever the quarrels about this and her performance, she assumes the office with grace, politeness and a welcome tolerance for criticisms.

Good manners have public value too. Our first woman police commissioner, she impresses with her well-medalled khaki uniform, often confidently leading a group of male seniors on inspection tours. More than with her first extension, the CoP is now seriously challenged to produce improved anti-crime results. If she does, she will not only be helping the country but also making the gender-sensitive proud. Kamla explained though: “We first voted for Erla but now I have a heavy heart.”

I was touched by the expressed hurt and pleadings by Laventille/Morvant residents at the Opposition Leader’s fifth anti-crime symposium held at the Misir Community Centre on May 13. Yes, there is the rough and tumble of party politics but in-between we must be humanitarian enough to share admiration, compassion and empathy where possible.

One by one, Ms Persad-Bissessar listened to the Morvant/Laventille speakers as they sorrowfully related the deaths of their children and close relatives. She has been under loudly-publicised pressure to call her party’s internal elections, to “step down” and if not, the UNC “will lose the elections.”

From inside and outside, she is under siege but facing it with a fighting spirit that is concealed by her smiles and demeanour. How long could she withstand the pressures? On May 13, she impressed me with how she sat so calmly, so royally with a stylishly coiffured hairstyle, flowing blue dress on a yellow sofa with a pleasant face showing no sign of expected stress. Either she is high on emotional intelligence and impulse control or she knows what the June 15 election will bring. As Jack Warner said, it is the optics, professor, the optics. A politician’s personality – appearance, dress, language, self-control, etc, – does carry value too. Kamla defiantly declared: “I don’t intend to retire any time soon.” So there goes Rodney Charles’ preference for Rushton Paray.

Would MPs Fitzgerald Hinds and Adrian Leonce have cause to worry from the troubling speeches by residents? UNC alderman Kareem Baird – young, articulate and passionate – sorrowfully related how three months ago his wife and brother-in-law were killed. With a politically charged speech, he called upon the crowd of about 50 to support “this lady of compassion, the queen, a dynamic, powerful visionary who understands hurt.” Kamla smiled. A woman in the audience advised Morvant/Laventille residents to “change the system and their attitudes.”

Tireless activist Lennox Smith proposed “psychological and social capital to keep the peace in Laventille.” When activist “Twiggy” walked up, praising the UNC political leader, Kamla said, “Now I know we will win the elections.” Twiggy declared “Dey cyar even spell gun, no job, but dey have gun.” Another woman with a yellow head-wrap pleaded: “Leh we push she up, leh we push she up.” Kamla smiled again.

It isn’t only about the Misir Centre crowd. It is symbolic – more about how Kamla’s successful anti-PNM meeting could be held in a PNM stronghold. (2020 elections: Laventille West, 11,183 of 25,585 voted, PNM Hinds 9,310 (84 per cent), UNC Rodney Stowe 1,324 (12 per cent), NOW 310 (three per cent), PEP 126 (one per cent), COP 47(.4 per cent). Laventille East/Morvant, 12,568 of 26,644 voted, PNM Leonce 10,356 (83 per cent), UNC Kareem Baird 1,965 (16 per cent), PEP 169 (1.3 per cent)) Four of every five votes went to PNM.

Chairing these widely-published “crime talks” helps establish her eminence in the party as well as a viable Whitehall contender. She faces a rather strong, experienced and determined UNC group of rebels who feel they have a justifiable cause – some bright lawyers too – and in a way that suggests the fight will not be over after June 15.

But to dethrone her, these inside antagonists (eg MPs Rushton Paray, Dinesh Rambally, Rodney Charles, Anita Haynes-Alleyne, Rai Ragbir) will require an earlier, broader-based, sustained campaign beyond newspaper headlines. Will June 15 produce the first blow?

MP Rambally, in particular, has the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha support. The UNC curiously moved its Monday Night Forum from SDMS's TV Jaagriti to IETV (SWAHA) with Hindu SWAHA’S official and former UTT president Prof Prakash Persad accepting an award from Kamla.

Political fluidity is on. In threatening circumstances, the psychology is for the leader to cherish loyalists, and with political pride at stake, tighten the circle and increase defiance.

Of course, these UNC crime talks do have a political purpose too, and quite likely the PNM which always got the lion’s share of votes in those areas may soon strike back. Who says crime is not about politics? After all, Kamla has bravely entered the lion’s den with what seems, from the expressed grievances, passion and anti-PNM sentiments, at another “successful crime talks.”

How far will this will go into next year’s general elections is still an open question?


"Kamla enters the lion’s den"

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