?It's entirely likely that if the new UNC political leader were male, the deft moves made during the last few days in that party would have been hailed as decisive expressions of leadership and a commitment to positive change. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the duly and overwhelmingly-elected political leader of that party, is now, instead, being accused of "hounding" Basdeo Panday out of the office of the Opposition Leader and of being "discourteous," "high-handed" and "almost vindictive�" in appointing newly-elected UNC chairman Jack Warner to the post of Opposition Chief Whip. These characterisations are, regrettably, likely to be only the start of the kind of male-dominated re-evaluation of the woman who overturned the reality of the Opposition party's politics. In winning the election by a landslide, drawing almost ten times as many votes as the incumbent, and drawing along with her into office her entire slate of candidates, Persad-Bissessar clearly tapped into the discontent within the party's rank and file and the state of the Opposition party's business as it was constituted.
The first act of any sensible politician brought into office under such circumstances would be to indicate, by word and by deed, that business would not be done, in any form or fashion, as it had been done before. A man doing this would, no doubt, have been saluted as politically-savvy, understanding the mandate given to him by the electorate responsible for his victory. The newly-elected political leader has, despite the sharp clarity of her actions, been remarkably generous in her handling of a situation which is essentially without precedent in the 20-year life of the United National Congress. There has never before been a situation in which the support for Basdeo Panday's leadership has been anything less than absolute and the loyalty to him less than ironclad. There has certainly never been a situation in which a decisive majority of the UNC's voting body has so clearly signalled to him their dissatisfaction with his performance as their leader.
Persad-Bissessar's first moves in the office of UNC political leader demonstrate an understanding that she was not brought to office by Basdeo Panday or even by the elected MPs of the UNC, but by a telling majority of the voting membership of the party. The first imperative of the new political leader must be to respect the clearly-indicated desire for change expressed by that electorate in the management of their party and she has done precisely that, with clear, appropriate moves that signal her intention to change the standard operating procedures that have prevailed for the UNC since its return to opposition in 2001. Kamla Persad-Bissessar has already announced her intention to constitute a proper shadow Cabinet in the UNC, signalling a long overdue commitment by the Opposition party to fulfil its role in Parliament as a more effective counterfoil to the government in power and to articulate a more useful and relevant role for itself in debates on national policy and governance.
That the political leader of the UNC must do so in the face of diffidence from her colleagues is unfortunate, but not insurmountable. It is also understandable that Basdeo Panday is having some difficulty adjusting to the surprising change in his political valuation that the January 24 internal election has brought home to him. It is also clear that Kamla Persad-Bissessar fully intends to provide the decisive and potentially unwelcome leadership that the UNC has been lacking since its return to opposition. In the inevitable conflict between those perspectives, it is left to Basdeo Panday to find an untapped wellspring of political generosity in the twilight of his political career, and provide the kind of guidance and support that the party he has led for 20 years needs now to transition to the next phase of its development.