Political analyst Dr Winford James says the Opposition leader needs to be very careful of dismissing claims made against her party by Cambridge Analytica (CA) whistleblower, Christopher Wylie.
In an interview with Guardian Media, James said the only way Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar can hope to win any election is by winning over undecided voters.
But he said she cannot do that if she does not treat the Cambridge Analytica allegations as serious.
Addressing supporters at the United National Congress’ (UNC’s) Monday Night Forum in Marabella, Persad-Bissessar said the people on the ground do not care about Wylie’s claims of having been contracted by the then-ruling People’s Partnership in 2013 to collect data on citizens. She and other UNC executives have firmly denied Wylie’s claims. She said citizens are crying out for jobs and basic necessities and have no time to focus on the Cambridge Analytica allegations and summed up the allegations as another email-gate scandal.
Persad-Bissessar said, “You know what people are telling me ‘Who the hell cares? Who the hell really cares?’ And the thing is we lost that election anyhow, so what is the big story and the big news?”
But James said this dismissal is dangerous, especially with two major elections looming.
“Mrs Persad-Bissessar has to be careful to make a distinction between a particular type of audience and another type of audience. When you are speaking to the already-converted, you probably can take liberties with their logic, their independence of mind because they are supporting you and they are willing to support you even in situations where you can hardly defend yourself,” James said.
He said the burden is on Persad-Bissessar to defend her party and this country’s democracy in a serious manner.
“People are going to say, you were the ones in power, the accusation is that you are the ones who authorised access to people’s personal accounts and that was a violation of democracy in its purest sense, we have to protect democracy, we don’t want you to be dismissive about it or to be facile in your response.”
James said the burden to protect T&T’s democracy falls on each and every politician and no one should be allowed to wave away these types of allegations.
He said though, Persad-Bissessar must be especially careful as the UNC, under her leadership, has not been successful in an election since 2010.
“She can’t say that when we compare what people are asking for with what the report is revealing, the focus of the people is far more important than an abuse on the part of a ruling party…she may continue to hold on to her traditional support base, but she needs more than that support base to win elections of any kind.”
James said Persad-Bissessar’s statements were unnecessary and labelled them a grave political mistake.
“She cannot afford to be reckless given that kind of record and that kind of background because the charges that are made in the report by Wylie are very damaging, they hit to the very heart of our democracy, they speak to an invasion of privacy.”
He said the undecided voters need to have a firm reason to swing in Persad-Bissessar’s favour for her party to have any chance at the polls.