May 25, 2010 / 6:37 PM / 9 years ago

Trinidad's new prime minister vows to heal rifts

* Opposition coalition wins 29 of 41 seats in Parliament

* PM Manning gambled and lost by calling early elections

* Winner Persad-Bissessar promises sound fiscal management

By Linda Hutchinson-Jafar

PORT OF SPAIN, May 25 (Reuters) - Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister-elect Kamla Persad-Bissessar promised on Tuesday to rebuild a nation fractured by allegations of fiscal mismanagement and corruption under the defeated People’s National Movement.

“Our nation has been in crisis,” Persad-Bissessar, who will be the Caribbean country’s first woman prime minister, told jubilant supporters after her party’s victory at the polls.

“Because of you we now stand on the cusp of a great moment in our history, one in which we begin the task of bringing people together to rebuild Trinidad and Tobago to make it safer, cleaner, more truly progressive than it has ever been before,” Persad-Bissessar said.

Her United National Congress coalition swept a number of marginal and PNM stronghold areas to win 29 out of the 41 parliamentary seats in Monday’s elections, according to preliminary results from the Elections and Boundaries Commission.

As the vote tallies showed a broad victory, her supporters formed a convoy to congregate at the UNC headquarters in the industrial center in Couva. The headquarters was transformed into a sea of yellow — the UNC’s color — and the bar was open free to everyone.

Persad-Bissessar, a 58-year-old former attorney general, pledged to bring transparency and accountability to all areas of government, while maintaining critical policies to ensure economic stability in the energy-rich nation.

“There will not be the old politics of dismantling programs and projects and plastering of new names just to stake a political claim,” Persad-Bissessar said. “Rather, there will be responsible, collaborative and proactive governance to provide the equitable representation and administration that every citizen, regardless of affiliation or persuasion deserves.”

Trinidad and Tobago is the biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas to the United States and no major changes were expected in the energy sector.

BAFFLING DECISION

The PNM’s leader and former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who retained his parliamentary seat, conceded early defeat.

The PNM, which won a comfortable 26-seat majority in the 2007 elections, was reduced to 12 seats in Monday’s elections.

Manning, 64, called snap general elections midway in his administration’s five-year term to thwart an opposition motion of no confidence against him. The move baffled political analysts because the motion was guaranteed to fail, given his party’s majority in Parliament.

Manning’s administration was hurt by high crime, fallout from the global financial crisis and accusations that he squandered energy revenues on regional summits and other projects that did not benefit most Trinidadians.

Persad-Bissessar is expected to be sworn into office by Wednesday and has begun putting together her cabinet. Former Central Bank Governor Winston Dookeran will become finance minister. Dookeran is the political leader of the Congress of the People, one of the smaller parties that joined the UNC coalition that will govern for the next five years.

Jack Warner, president of the CONCACAF football association and vice president of FIFA, said he was still considering a ministerial offer. Warner is the UNC chairman and overwhelmingly retained his parliamentary seat.

Some 1.04 million people out of the twin-island nation’s 1.3 million population were eligible to vote.

One of the biggest challenges facing Persad-Bissessar will be holding together the coalition of political parties that swept her into power, said Dr. Selwyn Ryan, a political scientist who teaches at the University of the West Indies.

“The challenge is to get the coalition to handle their differences in a mature manner and not disappoint the people who voted for them,” Ryan told Reuters. “They made a lot of promises and people are expecting the new government to keep them.” (Editing by Jane Sutton and Cynthia Osterman)

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