Indian-origin Kamla Persad-Bissessar became the first woman Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago after her five-party coalition, the People's Partnership, formed for the general election of 24 May 2010, emerged with a stunning upset and won 27 of 41 seats in the snap polls conducted in the former British colony.
The country is the biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas to the United States. The change in government was not expected to produce any significant change in energy policy. Trinidad and Tobago's population of about 1.3 million is almost evenly divided between descendants of African slaves and those of Indian indentured workers brought over when the territory was a British colony.
In early 2010, she won the United National Congress leadership over former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and became Political Leader of the Opposition. She put together a coalition to oust the former Prime Minister Patrick Manning's People's National Movement (PNM). She was the first woman to serve as Attorney General, acting Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition of Trinidad and Tobago.
Born 22 April 1952 in Siparia, Kamla Persad-Bissessar graduated from Iere High School and went on to further her studies at the University of the West Indies, Norwood Technical College (England), and the Hugh Wooding Law School. Consequently, she was awarded a B.A. (Hons.), a Diploma in Education, a B.A. of Laws (Hons.) and a Legal Education Certificate. In 2006 she obtained an Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, Trinidad.
On completion of her studies, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar entered the teaching profession. Her career history can be described as people-centered and one that has always focused her energy within the publicís eye. While in England pursuing studies, she worked as a social worker with the Church of England Childrenís Society of London. She taught at the St. Andrew High School in Kingston, Jamaica and at the Mona Campus in Jamaica. Later, she taught at the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. At the Jamaica College of Insurance she was also a Consultant Lecturer. Her next step was to lecture at a Tertiary Education institution. After lecturing for a total of six years, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar then became a full-time Attorney-at-Law.
Persad-Bissessar has served as Member of Parliament for the Siparia constituency since 1995. She served as Attorney General in 1995 until Ramesh Maharaj was able to disassociate himself from ongoing cases and again in 2001 after Maharaj left the party. When the United National Congress formed Government in December 22, 2000, she was sworn in as the Minister of Education.
On April 25, 2006 she received the support of the majority of Opposition MPs for the post of Leader of the Opposition. The position of Leader of the Opposition was declared vacant by President George Maxwell Richards after Basdeo Panday was convicted of failing to make an accurate declaration to the Integrity Commission concerning a bank account held in London. His Appeal is pending. Persad-Bissessar was subsequently appointed Leader of the Opposition on April 26, 2006.
Outgoing PM Manning's PNM draws most of its support from Afro-Trinidadians while the UNC of Kamla Persad-Bissessar largely relies on Indo-Trinidadian backing. Her coalition campaigned strongly for multi-ethnic support. Kamla Persad's campaign tapped into voters' worries about rising gang violence and corruption scandals here.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar promptly selected cabinet ministers and formed the government for the next five years in the twin-island nation. The 58-year-old has promised to increase pensions and create a multi-million-dollar fund for sick children in a campaign focused on change. Manning, 64, has ruled the country for 13 of the past 17 years and his biggest accomplishments as prime minister include poverty reduction and attracting billions of dollars in investment in Trinidad and Tobago's petrochemical industries.
In her acceptance speech, Prime Minster Kamla Persad-Bissessar said "the changing of the guard is an indicator that our democracy is still preserved and there can be nothing of greater importance for this nation". In introducing her cabinet, she stressed that "we begin to be tested as of this very moment. We carry a huge responsibility to get this nation back on track. So we must discover how to turn obstacles into opportunities, discover new ways of solving old problems. Inspire others by our enthusiasm and positive outlook.
GOPIO International sent a message of congratulations to Prime Minster Kamla Persad-Bissessar which stated that "GOPIO congratulates the United National Congress (UNC) alliance and its leader PIO-born Kamla Persad-Bissessar on the resounding victory on Monday, May 24, 2010 in Trinidad and Tobago. Your achievement of such a spectacular victory brings lots of pride to persons of Indian Origin in the region as well as throughout the global Indian Diaspora" "GOPIO conveys its best wishes to the new government formed with Kamla Persad-Bissessar as its head and look forward improved progress, peace and prosperity for all the people of Trinidad and Tobago".
GOPIO of Trinidad & Tobago as well as GOPIO of India also sent messages of congratulations to the new prime minister.
In remarks issued separately, Ramsaran stated that, "we at GOPIO are very pleased when a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) rises to a level of major accomplishment such as Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar has achieved with her astounding victory to become Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Furthermore, we also take much pride that a PIO woman has become the first in the Caribbean to have done so". He continued, "She exemplifies the true spirit of a PIO which provides a rejuvenated sense of pride among PIOs in Trinidad and Tobago as well as the entire Caribbean region. We at GOPIO are convinced that Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, being a PIO, would be more sensitive and aware of the interests and concerns of PIOs, and we look forward to close interaction and collaboration at the local chapter level as well as with GOPIO International".
Prime Minster Kamla Persad-Bissessar attended GOPIO's Business Conference banquet in 2002 in New York when she was Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago and delivered her remarks to a packed audience.