Trinidad opposition leadership campaigns turn nasty

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UNC leadership contenders (L-R): Dr Roodal Moonilal, Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Vasant Bharath

By Caribbean News Now contributor

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — As predicted by former minister Vasant Bharath, one of three contenders for the leadership of the opposition United National Congress (UNC) in Trinidad and Tobago, the campaigning has turned nasty and, according to local media, internecine conflict is threatening to break up the party in the run-up to the internal elections.

Bharath said earlier this month that, based on previous campaigns, he suspected the election will get nasty.

“I don’t hold out much hope that it’s going to be very clean,” he said.

With just days to go before the party elects its leader on December 5, one would-be deputy leader was reportedly threatened for taking sides against incumbent political leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

According to the Trinidad Guardian, former sports minister Brent Sancho aligned himself with challenger Bharath’s Team Reconnect and was immediately “threatened with exposure” by Persad-Bissessar’s team.

Sancho apparently quickly withdrew his candidacy and left the country.

A Team Reconnect insider confirmed that Sancho made an application to be on Bharath’s slate in the capacity of deputy political leader. He confirmed also that Sancho left the country and indicated that he would return only after the December 5 election.

Persad-Bissessar has denied any involvement in the alleged threat against Sancho.

Bharath has accused the third contender for the party leadership, Dr Roodal Moonilal, of “clutching at straws” in an attempt to undermine his campaign.

“I think he (Moonilal) sees that he does not have the support he believed he would have and as the party founder said, he is irrelevant,” Bharath said.

He said Moonilal’s sudden attack on him proved that Moonilal’s own campaign was fragile.

“He seems to be building his case to return to the Persad-Bissessar camp because I believe he recognises that he cannot win,” Bharath said.

“He seems to be looking for a home and is trying to engender some sort of sympathy from the Persad-Bissessar camp,” Bharath added.

Moonilal is one of three former senior government officials claimed by FIFA corruption-accused Jack Warner to have conspired to cover up an alleged discovery of marijuana at the private residence of then prime minister now leader of the opposition, Persad-Bissessar.

The Police Complaints Authority in Trinidad has recommended the criminal prosecution of certain police officers involved in the alleged discovery but it is not known whether or not a separate ongoing police investigation is looking into the alleged cover up by Moonilal and others.

It seems likely that Bharath is working to position himself as the “safe” candidate for those who are disenchanted with Persad-Bissessar but are not prepared to embrace Moonilal’s more abrasive political style.

Meanwhile, Persad-Bissessar said she has no intention of ever again working with either Moonilal or Bharath.

Persad-Bissessar has also called her competitors hypocrites, noting that three months ago they were praising her leadership.

Bharath and Moonilal have both denied that they were hypocritical in supporting her three months ago but fighting her for party leadership now.

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