Mrs Persad-Bissessar has a history of loyalty to whom she has been associated with throughout her political career. She entered Parliament in 1986 as a part of the NAR wave which swept the PNM from power.
She remained with ANR Robinson following the Club 88 split when Basdeo Panday, Trevor Sudama and John Humphrey pulled out of the Alliance, and stood for Siparia under the NAR in 1991 when she lost her seat to the UNC.
In 1995 she won the Siparia seat for the UNC, whom she had joined during the administration of Patrick Manning’s PNM. The UNC, with the help of Robinson’s Tobago arm of the remnants of the NAR, formed the new government and Kamla was appointed the first woman Attorney General. This historic appointment was reasonably short-lived—not because of any failing on Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s part, but rather because of an apparent deal between Party Leader Basdeo Panday and attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.
Kamla was reassigned to Minister of Legal Affairs and later to the Ministry of Education, which seemed so suited to her talent and indeed, her charm. As the UNC became the target of allegations of corruption, she and her Ministry remained unscathed, being criticised only for the locations chosen for some of the schools she built.
As the UNC began to fall apart, with AG Maharaj claiming corruption in several ministries—but not Kamla’s—she stood loyally with Basdeo Panday, and won her seat each time in the flurry of general elections which followed.
During the next five years in opposition, with all the convolutions in the UNC, Kamla remained loyal to Basdeo Panday, and remained the voice of reason in that battered party, even though she was sidelined as Political Leader when Panday was convicted under the Integrity in Public Life Act—the position going to Winston Dookeran. When problems began with Basdeo Panday’s treatment of him, Dookeran quit to join Gillian Lucky and others as “Independent” members on the opposition bench.
In the run-up to the 2007 general elections she was again passed over as the Prodigal Son Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj was brought back into the fold, as the party now faced both the PNM and Dookeran’s newly-formed Congress of the People. She fought back—as a woman—with her famous “No Woman, No Cry” speech at the UNC Election Rally in 2007, and comfortably won her seat again.
When the RamJack revolution shook the UNC in 2009, Kamla remained loyal to Panday until she was called upon by party membership to finally challenge Panday for the leadership, which she won by a landslide, also wiping out Maharaj’s challenge. For standing loyally behind Panday she has been accused of being overly submissive to the rejections laid upon her. However, this trait, when practiced in the PNM is acknowledged as “party discipline and loyalty.”
She is now the first woman to hold the post of a party Political Leader in our Parliament. While we congratulate her for this achievement, we hold her in higher respect for the quiet and diplomatic manner in which she has sought to heal the party’s wounds and achieve the consensus she will need to challenge the PNM in the House, and eventually at the polls.
Well done Kamla!