Kamla! Trinidad and Tobago elects first woman PM
On Monday, a coalition led by Kamla Persad Bissessar, the leader of the Trinidad and Tobago opposition, routed incumbent Patrick Manning by a landslide. Mrs. Bissessar is now Trinidad's first woman Prime Minister.
A bit of background on Trinidad, where I spent much time in the 1980s. The population is about evenly split between East Indians and Africans. As in Malaysia, politics has always been implicity, if not explicitly race-dominated.
Until now. Bissessar, an extraordinarily gifted Indo-Trinidadian politician leading the traditional "Indian" party, the UNP, put together a coalition of five parties to defeat the incumbent, Patrick Manning, longtime leader of the entrenched, African-Trinidadian PNP.
The PNP in recent years has devolved into a corrupt kleptocracy. Trinidad, which is right off the Venezuela coast, has oil and natural gas money. It has also become a major drug transshipment point, and violent crime is rampant. Whether that crime is somehow entwined with the PNP government became a major point of the campaign.
(During the campaign, as if to prove her point, Kamla's car was hijacked and robbed of personal documents, by assailants unknown.)
Trindadian elections are raucous, musical, emotional affairs, and Kamla's campaign did a terrific job with the promo. Local calypso singers, who function like musical newspaper editorialists, added a creative touch to the propaganda--here's a great anti-government calypso from a singer called Crazy, "Patrick Manning Has To Go".
Kamla's first act, she says, will be to cut all minister's salaries, including her own, by 10%. Her much harder task will be tackling Trinidad's corruption and organized crime, not to mention dealing with the fallout of the economic privatization the Manning administration pushed.
But she's certainly a powerhouse, and for my money she's the most charismatic woman politician to blast onto the scene in some time. Whether she's got the policy chops to back it up I don't know--but she does have experience: long track record as a representative and minority leader in the Trindadian parliament, and she was the Attorney General under a previous administration.
Knowing Trinidad politics, I'm impressed by her skill. She first took over her own very male-dominated Indian party (the UNP was led by fabled patriarch and ex-PM Basdeo Panday), and THEN she forged an Afro-Indo coalition between that party and four others to challenge the PM.
In Trinidad, this is a remarkable achievement, and even if Mrs. Bissessar's only legacy is that she broke up and re-arranged the racial character of Trinidad's political system, that would be enormous.
All my friends from Trinidad are over the moon about her victory, so let's keep an eye on her.