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Vasant Bharath made a tactical blunder last Wednesday when he announced that he would not contest the position of political leader of the UNC in the party’s internal elections on November 26 instant.
There were some MPs whom he said were supporting him, but in the end he never revealed any names and no one who is a sitting UNC MP ever came forward to publicly identify themselves with his cause.
Two Sundays ago, I wrote about the experiences of Karl Hudson-Phillips in 1973 when he had a number of PNM MPs who were supporting him to become political leader of the PNM in succession to Dr Eric Williams.
Williams made his move to announce that he was not seeking re-nomination as political leader and then he changed his mind. It was at that point that all the MPs who were supporting Karl receded from their earlier support and he was left high and dry with the exception of one councillor from Couva—Desmond Baxter.Fast forward 44 years and Vasant Bharath apparently suffered the same fate. He kept talking about all of these MPs who were purportedly supporting him and that he could not call their names. When the time came for nominations to close, he held a press conference to announce his withdrawal from the race.
That is where he and Kamla Persad-Bissessar separate themselves from each other. In 2010, she faced an executive and a party electoral machinery that was under the control of Basdeo Panday and Kelvin Ramnath and she knew it would not be easy to take on the UNC establishment in a contested election and win.
However, she did it and she won in a process that revealed that UNC voters had changed their minds.
Bharath had that opportunity and he decided to walk away. It would have been better for him to have taken on the current UNC establishment and voice his opinions openly about what could be done better in the party, rather than to complain about what he feared might happen.
Persad-Bissessar could have done the same thing in 2010, but she decided to challenge the founder of the party, Basdeo Panday. That was not an easy decision to make.
Bharath had a somewhat similar challenge in front of him last Wednesday. When many people thought that he was calling a press conference to announce his slate, very few imagined that he was actually calling a press conference to announce his withdrawal.
Even if he lost, he would have been able to pontificate about what he thought needed to be done and he could even have alleged that he was not comfortable with the outcome and could have kept his battle going for change. For someone who stated that they had been working among the party membership for the last year, walking away was the last thing to do.
That has now cleared the way for Persad-Bissessar to press the reset button in the party executive as her sole challenger, Christine Newallo-Hosein, does not have a slate.
The biggest surprise was the entry of Jearlean John into a leadership position in the UNC.
By accepting nomination for the position of deputy political leader she will bring to the party a level of energy and diligence to duty that will redound to its benefit.
The three deputy political leaders also provide a level of diversity that not even Basdeo Panday was able to accomplish given his own attempts at quietly supporting a particular candidate in the UNC internal elections of 2001.
The contest between Persad-Bissessar and Newallo-Hosein will have to be hard fought as nothing must ever be taken for granted in politics.
The party mobilization that goes with an internal election is always valuable for any political party and provides a time for renewal of effort. That will be the UNC task for the future.