With the leadership of the United National Congress (UNC) up for grabs, political scientist Dr Shane Mohammed says anyone seeking to dethrone political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has to beat her at her own game.
Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew on Monday, Mohammed said there were no free and fair internal elections in the Opposition party for the last decade.
Persad-Bissessar announced that the party would hold its internal elections on June 26 during a meeting on Saturday.
“I make no apologies for saying this, and I am speaking from a position of experience, that the UNC internal elections under Kamla Persad-Bissessar have never been free and fair from interference,” Mohammed said.
Breaking down the UNC in the past decade, he said Persad-Bissessar had violated the party constitution throughout her tenure as the political leader. He said she had failed to follow protocols and believed that because she is an attorney, she and only those attorneys in the party had the moral authority to interpret the party’s constitution.
However, Mohammed said the constitution, authored by former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and former prime minister Basdeo Panday, is easy to understand.
He recalled that between 1991 and 1994, Panday conveyed that one did not need a formal education to represent the people and appointed cane cutter Dora Bridgemohan to the Senate. Bridgemohan, he noted, was instrumental in wage negotiations and labour laws.
Persad-Bissessar became the UNC leader after defeating party founder Basdeo Panday in 2010. She then led a coalition of parties to a general election victory against the People’s National Movement (PNM) months later. Even after losing successive general elections, the party has retained her as the leader.
However, Mohammed said that Persad-Bissessar did not show the capacity, resilience, viability and confidence to carry on as a strong opposition leader and political leader in the last few years.
He cited that during her Monday Night Forum speech last week, there were certain words she could not pronounce because of an apparent speech impediment.
He believes Persad-Bissessar’s chances of retaining party leadership depend on the realpolitik system, in which members choose practical principles rather than moral considerations.
Oropouche East MP Roodal Moonilal fought for the party leadership in 2015. After losing then, he said there were many election irregularities, he noted.
Mohammed believes Moonilal has a chance if he contests the upcoming elections, as he has the capacity and charisma. He said Moonilal was attempting to rebrand himself and his image, which anyone aspiring to leadership would do.
However, Mohammed’s concern was that if Moonilal beats Persad-Bissessar at her game, he could become a direct target of the People’s National Movement.
He may suffer the same fate as Panday with the accusations of corruption against his name, which would tarnish his reputation and diminish his viability as a potential prime ministerial candidate, he said.
Mohammed believes former minister of health Dr Fuad Khan as a political leader and former national security minister Jack Warner as chairman could, in fact, help the UNC rebuild.
He said their humility and ability to relate to people were ideal for the task. He added that they were realistic people who would not fabricate lies and innuendos for political survival and would give capable and experienced young people opportunities.