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Trinidad's First Female Prime Minister

Honorable Kamla Persad-Bissessar sworn into office by the Bhagvat Gita as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

Kamla Persad-Bissessar, whose fore parents came from India to Trinidad as indentured laborers, led her alliance coalition to victory in that country’s general elections on May 24 making her its first female Prime Minister. Persad-Bissessar’s People’s Partnership won 29 out of the 41 parliamentary seats ending the ruling party’s 43 years in office. The election was fought on several issues including massive corruption in all sectors of the national economy, the lack of medical facilities, a total breakdown in the infrastructural capacity and the mismanagement of the nation. Rising crime with over 3,000 people being murdered over the last eight years was also an issue. Indians had faced immense discrimination and they came out in masses to vote for her making her the first female Indian leader outside of India.

Persad-Bissessar, 58, a grandmother of two and a devout Hindu, said: “I am grateful for the immense support from women and women’s groups across the country and to the extent that this helps to break the barriers so many competent women face. I celebrate this victory on their behalf”.

Persad-Bissessar's victory bolsters a trend of women being elected to lead countries in the hemisphere. Argentina's Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was elected three years ago, and Costa Rica's Laura Chinchilla won the presidency in February, becoming the first woman to be elected there. In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is backing Dilma Rousseff, his chief of staff, for the presidency of Latin America's largest country in October's elections. Australia and New Zealand also have new female leaders.

Kamla_on_stage_celebrating her victory_with chutney singer Ravi B.

Persad-Bissessar was a topper in law school and did her masters in business administration and diploma in education from the University of the West Indies. She was the first woman attorney general and also served as minister of legal affairs as well as minister of education.

Kamla’s fore parents were among the 148,000 Indian labourers who were brought to Trinidad between 1845 and 1917 to work on sugar and cocoa plantations. The Indian diaspora comprises 44 percent of the population of 1.3 million people.

Kamla’s charisma and willingness to take chances have helped her throughout her political career, which began shortly after she graduated from law school at the top of her class. She won election to her local council in 1987, but lost when she decided to seek a Parliament seat in 1991 against the newly formed UNC led by Basdeo Panday. In 1994, she was asked by Panday to serve as a senator. He would later become her political mentor. ``She was brave enough to become interested in politics. That quality she had,'' Panday told The Miami Herald. ``In Trinidad and Tobago, people are not willing to get involved in politics because it's rough. She was willing.''

A year after joining the senate, the UNC won general elections and Persad-Bissessar served won a seat to parliament in Panday’s party. She was sworn in as attorney general and later served as minister of legal affairs and education minister over the five-year term. She also got her fist taste of the top job, becoming the first woman to serve as acting prime minister when Panday traveled outside the country. Later, she would become the first woman to lead a major political party. Her meteoric rise to the top job began January 24 last year when she crushed two political legends for the post of leader. She successfully challenged her mentor, Basdeo Panday, for the leadership of the United National Congress which he had founded 20 years ago. Excoriated as a weakling incapable of leading, she had the political strength to beat Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Bas. And she has been making history since being sworn in. Her party is expected to win a landslide in local elections on Jul 26. Kamla has visited India on several occasions, attending the Pravasi Bharatiya conference in Hyderabad in 2006 and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meetings. She has been invited as Chief Guest to the 30th India Day Parade. And she has been nominated as the Chief Guest at the 2011 Pravasi. Mrs. Persad Bissessar is married to her childhood sweetheart, Dr. Gregory Bissessar, a medical doctor, both of whom studied together at UWI.

[ BY Ramesh D. Kalicharran ]