Port of Spain: Indian-origin Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been elected the first woman Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago after the political coalition led by her won a thumping majority and ended the ruling party’s 43 years in power.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s People’s Partnership won 29 out of the 41 parliamentary seats in the elections held on May 24. She was sworn in as Prime Minister on May 25 evening by President George Maxwell Richards.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, a grandmother of two and a devout Hindu, said: “I am grateful for the immense support from women and women’s groups across the country and to the extent that this helps to break the barriers so many competent women face.
“I celebrate this victory on their behalf. But, the picture is much larger than any single group and those very women would be the first to acknowledge that.”
Outgoing Prime Minister Patrick Manning conceded defeat after being in power since 2002.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar was a topper in law school and she did her master’s in business administration and diploma in education from the University of the West Indies. She was the first woman attorney general and also served as Minister of Legal Affairs as well as Minister of Education.
Her forefather was amongst the 148,000 Indian laborers who were brought here between 1845 and 1917 to work on the sugar and cocoa plantations. The Indian Diaspora comprises 44 per cent of the population of 1.3 million people.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who has represented her Siparia constituency for 15 years, had held the reins of power during the absence of then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
She has become the first woman to lead any political party in oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago. Her meteoric rise began on January 24 last year when she successfully challenged her mentor, Basdeo Panday, for the leadership of the United National Congress which he had founded 20 years ago.
Prime Minister Patrick Manning broke with tradition and dissolved the 41-seat parliament April and called for general elections on May 24, some 30 months before it was due constitutionally.
For the first time since independence in August 1962, a coalition of four other parties joined to confront the ruling People’s National Movement which has been in power for 43 years.
The five parties are Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s United National Congress, Congress of the People (COP), the National Joint Action Committee, Tobago Organization of Peoples, and the Movement for Social Change.
These parties came under the banner of the “People’s Partnership,” with each party maintaining its own symbol on the ballot paper.
The election was fought on several issues including massive corruption in all sectors of the national economy, the lack of medical facilities, a total breakdown in the infrastructural capacity and the mismanagement of the nation. Rising crime with over 3,000 people being murdered over the last eight years was also an issue.