The people who really make politics what it is are those who are diehard supporters of a party. They are responsible for any political group being in power at all and also for them retaining power. People who stand on the fringes weighing up what each has to offer, what they promise, and then deciding which way to vote are floaters who political leaders have to try to convince because they can make a difference to the electoral results.
Kamla, I predict, has potentially swung a lot of those votes. She has also caused, I am almost certain, a lot of head scratching in the other parties. COP is perhaps the most vulnerable in the face of her rise because many non-partisan women who want change in this country and a more compassionate politics would want to believe that a woman leader could ring the change. Many of them support COP but with a more credible UNC there is everything to play for.
Of course, Kamla has to first of all win the leadership of the UNC. That is not a foregone conclusion, but based on polls done to date she would almost certainly be a more acceptable choice to the general electorate and to UNC members who are fed-up with Mr Panday’s desperate clinging to power despite being well past his sell-by date. I also imagine that the overtures of Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who has, rightly or wrongly, a blotted political copy book and stirs fear in the soul of many ordinary mortals who have reasonable recall, leave many of them, both in and outside of the UNC, stone cold. It would be interesting to see if being faced with the obvious truth that Kamla would now be a better bet than he to make a good stab at wrenching power away from the PNM would be enough to bring the hard-headed Mr Panday to his senses and for him to throw his weight behind her.
I do not know the intricacies of the UNC party organ or how the leader is finally chosen but the best possible development would be for Kamla to emerge as the single, strong leader of a party that can present a viable alternative to the PNM. Having any party in power that dwarfs all opposition is not good for democracy. You end up with, what is in effect, a one party state. That is not the political system the people of this country chose. And we should not want it, regardless of the quality of that government’s performance, because entrenched politics can do long term harm.
But there are questions about Kamla that she would have to answer to the voters’ satisfaction if she is to lead the UNC to a victory in the next election. Top of the list are whether she is above race politics, as so many members of her party are not, and whether she is her own woman. Firstly, many black people fear Indian rule, and from all the racism that exists on both sides, that is not an unreasonable fear.
Whoever leads the country must be the protector of all. Can she persuade me and all the diverse groups in TT that after all the damaging, racialist rhetoric of the present UNC leader, whom she has so loyally served, that she does not believe in that type of political cynicism and opportunism?
Secondly, as women, many of us felt embarrassed when she was so casually dispatched by Panday when he put together his macho, dream leadership team, after she had been his staunchest defendant. She was like a puppy dog, at the feet of her abusive owner, anticipating the next kick but still eager to go fetch.
Perhaps she always knew that the big bone would one day be thrown her way and she played a clever waiting game. If she is that wily then her staying power must recommend her. In some ways she embodies the syndrome of the abused woman in TT society, and as a woman I would want her to see her rise from those ashes. However, as a citizen who cares about my country, I would want to know much more about her policies and who and what pulls her strings. Let’s see how good a politician she is over the next few critical months. This is her moment. Can she rise to it?