The Kamla Persad-Bissessar you are seeing today is not the Kamla of a year ago.
Simply put, she is tougher than before, she is standing firmly, and she is not taking nonsense from her male colleagues. Persad-Bissessar has been through enough, humiliated by several, but had the strength to regain her composure and sit one step closer to becoming the first female prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Persad-Bissessar, 58, started her climb in October 1987 when she was admitted to the bar of T&T. At age 35, she was the top law student at Hugh Wooding Law School, putting her younger colleagues in the shade. It was clear from the first interview she gave (in the Guardian) that this was a woman who was not going to lie down and play dead.
From that early time, she got involved with the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), becoming an alderman with the St Patrick County Council (now the Siparia Regional Corporation). She entered the chambers of Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, whom she has always given praise as the person who launched her legal career.
After Basdeo Panday broke away from the NAR, he formed his own party, the United National Congress (UNC). In 1994, Persad-Bissessar joined the UNC and became an opposition senator. She was preparing for bigger things. When then Prime Minister Patrick Manning called a snap election in November 1995, Persad-Bissessar was offered the opportunity to contest the Siparia seat. While other candidates were announced, Persad-Bissessar was the last to be approved, as one man did not want her to be a candidate although Panday had approved. She got the nod and won her seat handsomely. The election ended in a 17-17 tie between the PNM and UNC, with the NAR getting the two Tobago seats. ANR Robinson and Pamela Nicholson joined with the UNC and Panday became the prime minister. Persad-Bissessar was appointed the first female attorney general, but she never went past the honeymoon period. Maharaj, her mentor, replaced her after three months, and a position of Minister of Legal Affairs was created and she was posted there. Persad-Bissessar was confined to the political doghouse, and she grieved for a long time. But despite the treatment, she remained loyal to Panday.
She became AG a second time in 2001 when Maharaj, along with Ralph Maraj and Trevor Sudama, were fired by Panday. After an 18-18 election tie between PNM and UNC, Robinson, who was then president, handed Government to Manning and the UNC went out of office. Persad-Bissessar remained loyal to Panday and continued to gain the most votes in the general election. When Panday was jailed in April 2006 for failing to declare his Natwest London bank account to the Integrity Commission, Persad-Bissessar was appointed Opposition Leader. When Panday was suspended by House Speaker Barry Sinanan in 2007 for disobeying the chair, Persad-Bissessar was again appointed the Opposition Leader. Panday returned to the House after the 2007 general election and became Opposition Leader again.
Persad-Bissessar remained in his corner, despite the ranting of a selected few, but she knew her time would come as Panday was not getting younger. There were others in the party who felt they were leadership material. So, when Panday announced January 24, 2010 would be internal elections in the UNC, Persad-Bissessar threw her hat in the ring for political leadership. She was up against her guru, Panday, and legal mentor, Maharaj. It was going to be a brutal battle for leadership and survival. All guns were trained on Persad-Bissessar but she came out of it unscathed. She got more than 13,000 votes –ten times more than Panday, and as Sparrow sang years ago, ten to one is murder. Maharaj got less than 800 and he was wiped out. Persad-Bissessar's strength must lie with her sister, Wattie, who lives in England, but is here for this election of all elections.
Persad-Bissessar moves around in Obama style, holding hands with her husband, Gregory, who is enjoying every minute of this campaign. Those around her are saying that Persad-Bissessar has taken control of her party... and maybe destiny. She calls the shots and those around her are ready for the challenge. Only time will tell if she becomes the new prime minister of T&T. n See more tonight on CNC3 News and tomorrow on CNC3's Early Morning Show?