She does not have the distinction of shattering the glass ceiling in the highest office in the land—that honour belongs to her immediate predecessor President Paula-Mae Weekes—but President-elect Christine Kangaloo has set some historic precedents during her many years of public service.
The second woman to serve as President of the Senate, she is now poised to make even more history as T&T’s seventh President.
And as she prepares to be sworn in as Head of State and Commander of T&T’s Armed Forces, she does so with the support of the 48 members of the Electoral College who delivered a strong endorsement of her suitability during a special session yesterday.
It was an expected result, as Ms Kangaloo was guaranteed 36 votes from the party that nominated her for the position, the People’s National Movement (PNM).
However, the Opposition United National Congress (UNC) also had its say. They fielded a rival candidate, Israel Khan, SC, and took every opportunity to express their strong displeasure at the selection of a presidential candidate who was closely aligned with the PNM.
What lies ahead for Ms Kangaloo, who will take her oath of office in March, is a role that is largely quasi-ceremonial, most of it enshrined in the Constitution of T&T and often misunderstood, even after 47 years as a Republic.
She gave up the gavel of Senate President just days before yesterday’s sitting of the Electoral College, where her election was made official. But while that prior role gave her some hands-on experience in the office, that does not make taking up the role full-time any less daunting.
Like the six Presidents before her, Ms Kangaloo will be required to make appointments and decide on matters of the greatest national importance. Very often, these will be done in consultation with the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, but there will be occasions she will have to draw on her legal experience.
In all these functions, particularly because of her past political involvements, she will face intense scrutiny.
Strong parallels can be drawn between Ms Kangaloo’s pathway to the presidency and that of Arthur NR Robinson, who left a position in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Basdeo Panday to accept nomination to become T&T’s third President in 1997.
Mr Robinson also faced a divided Electoral College, with the then Opposition PNM, led by Patrick Manning, nominating Justice Anthony Lucky. The 46 votes cast for Robinson to Lucky’s 18, with one vote rejected, did not mirror the results of yesterday’s exercise but also reflected a deeply divided Parliament.
Ms Kangaloo will be the second youngest to hold the office at age 61. The late Sir Ellis Clarke, who became President at age 59, was the youngest.
But she enters the office with many personal and professional experiences behind her that have girded her for the challenges ahead, having survived breast cancer and suffering the tragic loss of her brother, the late Justice Wendell Kangaloo, in a vehicular accident.
As the nation looks ahead to the tenure of President Christine Kangaloo, this is also the time to reflect on the legacy of President Paula-Mae Weekes as she prepares to demit office.
Best wishes to both women as they embark on their new journeys.