NEW GOVERNMENT ELECTED IN TRINIDAD – VICTORY FOR THE PEOPLE

BY Andre Bagoo Tuesday, May 25 2010

KAMLA PERSAD-Bissessar, 58, will be sworn in as Trinidad and Tobago’s first woman Prime Minister after the UNC/COP-led coalition pulled off a landslide victory in yesterday’s historic General Election.

Persad-Bissessar and “the People’s Partnership” wrested power from the Patrick Manning-led PNM, taking home 29 seats to the PNM’s 12 seats, based on preliminary results. According to preliminary projections early this morning, the UNC took home 22 seats, ensuring a secure place in Government, the COP five and the TOP two. The PNM bagged 13: it had won 26 seats in the 2007 election. On that occasion, the UNC won 15.

The UNC/COP coalition was able to take several seats which they would have won in the 2007 election had they contested then as a united entity. The coalition was able to further push into PNM territory by picking up key marginals along the East-West Corridor. And tellingly, the coalition took away several “safe seats” from the PNM which were not thought to have been vulnerable.

The sweeping results, reminiscent of the PNM’s defeat in the 1986 election to the NAR, gives the coalition a two-thirds majority which will empower it to pass sweeping constitutional changes in the tenth Parliament.

At Rienzi Complex, Couva last night, Persad-Bissessar pledged to immediately set about to rebuild the nation.

“I am overwhelmed by your love, I am humbled by your devotion, I am honoured by your trust. As Prime Minister-elect of our great republic of Trinidad and Tobago, let me say how grateful I am by your overwhelming response to the People’s Partnership,” Persad-Bissessar told a jubilant crowd of thousands.

She pledged, “You can hold me accountable to the promise of change that we offered you. I knew the time had come. A new page has been turned and the responsibility to each of you is now on my shoulders. I will not let you down.

“From this day forth, as we go forward to build our nation there will be no UNC, no TOP, no COP, no MSJ there will be nothing else, no PNM because we are one nation, we are one people and together we will rise, together. We need every single hand on deck. Our nation has been in crisis and the only way we can rebuild this land is if side by side together we lift and raise every single person….Be your brother’s keeper, be you sister’s keeper and no one must be left behind.”

Persad-Bissessar, the new Prime Minister, will now join the ranks of woman Caribbean leaders including Dominica’s Dame Eugenia Charles (Prime Minister from 1980 to 1995), Guyana’s Janet Jagan, (Prime Minister in 1997 and elected President in 1997 serving until 1999) and Jamaica’s Portia Simpson-Miller (2006 to 2007).

The UNC political leader’s victory came exactly four months after she defeated former UNC leader Basdeo Panday in a crushing internal poll on January 24, and three months after she became Opposition Leader in the ninth Parliament after winning the support of key Panday loyalists in the House of Representatives. Her victory also comes 23 years after she first entered politics.

The People’s Partnership was able to win significant marginals, such as the two Tobago seats, Barataria/San Juan, Tunapuna, St Joseph, San Fernando West, Moruga/Tableland and Chaguanas East. The Tobago East seat was declared by as early was 8.30 pm at Rienzi Complex with the PNM’s THA Chief Secretary Orville London conceding the Tobago West seat soon after.

Several high-profile PNM Cabinet members lost their seats including: Minister of Information Neil Parsanlal (Lopinot/Bon-Air West), Minister of Education Esther Le Gendre (Tunapuna), Minister of Public Administration Kennedy Swaratsingh (St Joseph) and Minister of Finance Karen Nunez-Tesheira (D’Abadie/O’meara).

Parsanlal lost to the COP’s Lincoln Douglas, Le Gendre to COP political leader Winston Dookeran. Nunez-Tesheira lost her seat to the COP’s Anil Roberts, a popular television host. Swaratsingh, who was last week confirmed as still being a Roman Catholic priest, suffered defeat at the hands of former High Court judge Herbert Volney who left the bench to contest the election.

The election also yielded a historic first for the political new-comer the COP which was able to win seats for the first time since being formed in September 2006. The party had failed to win a seat in the 2007 election, despite capturing approximately one third of the popular vote then.

Dookeran secured victory over Le Gendre convincingly. He had narrowly lost the St Augustine seat in the 2007 election. COP deputy political leader Prakash Ramadhar took home the St Augustine seat this time around.

“I wish to thank Esther Le Gendre for her service that she has rendered to the people of Tunapuna over the last two years,” Dookeran said at the COP office in El Dorado. “I welcome Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the groundbreaking role as the Prime Minister.”

The results also represented wins for the labour movement, with two trade unionists, Errol McLeod and Rudy Indarsingh taking seats for the UNC in Pointe-a-Pierre and Couva South.

By all indications yesterday’s election saw a high turnout, with queues at polling stations from before dawn and even, at some stations, before the polls opened at 6 am. A total of 1,040,011 voters were registered to vote.

The tenth Parliament will see the ruling PNM sit on the Opposition benches for the first time in a decade after its political leader called an early election for the second time in his political career. For Manning, last night’s results were deja vu after he also lost the 1995 general election after calling an election one year early.

Amidst deepening unpopularity and a rising tide of criticism over his administration, including scandals involving his ties to Udecott and the construction of a church at Guanapo, Manning dissolved Parliament for unclear reasons on April 8, one day before Persad-Bissessar had been scheduled to debate an Opposition motion of no-confidence. Manning held on to the election date for a full eight days, as the country was thrust into limbo by his abrupt decision which came two and a half years early.

Yesterday’s events also represented Manning’s political career coming full circle. Manning held his San Fernando East constituency seat, cementing his status as one of Trinidad and Tobago’s longest serving MPs. His victory in San Fernando East came exactly 39 years after he first won the seat for the PNM at the age of 24.

But that achievement will do little to quell clear questions that now arise over his future as the PNM political leader, amidst the increasing popularity of Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley, who led criticisms of Manning within the PNM for the last two years since Manning sacked him as Trade and Industry Minister in April 2008. Rowley last night claimed the Diego Martin West seat by a convincing margin as Manning, for the first time, hinted at Balisier House of stepping down as PNM political leader.

“This came as a surprise to me,” Manning said in a speech conceding PNM defeat at 10.40 pm. “I want to assure you all that it is not the end of the world or the end of the political world. We accept the result and I accept full responsibility for the result.”

He tellingly added, “Very shortly we will be calling the General Council and the party together and one of the things that I will now have to consider is my future in politics.”

To Persad-Bissessar, Manning said, “I wish the first female Prime Minister well.”

In her victory address at Rienzi, Persad-Bissesar pledged to immediately start the process of selecting her Cabinet, to ensure a continuity of Government policies, to increase levels of consultation to focus on education and to visit schools. She paid special tributes to Dookeran, TOP political leader Ashworth Jack and to UNC chairman Jack Warner. She also thanked UNC founder Basdeo Panday, whom she had defeated in party internal polls, wishing him a happy 77th birthday.