What does the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago now have in common with the United Kingdom, Germany, Pakistan, Israel and a handful of other countries? Answer: a woman's touch.
For the first time, the Caribbean nation - best known for its massive Carnival celebration - has elected a female prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Persad-Bissessar successfully mounted and led a multi-party coalition challenge to the incumbent Patrick Manning who had held power for 14 years. She will be sworn in Wednesday at 4pm Eastern Time.
A motion of "no confidence" had been brought against Manning and, as a result, he had called for an election 30 months before the next general election was due. Persad-Bissessar - the opposition party leader, the nation's attorney general and of East Indian background - put together what she called a "People's Partnership" consisting of parties that ran across several ethnic lines. This partnership boosted her United National Congress party, resulting in its winning 29 of the nation's 41 parliamentary seats.
Over the years, Manning's People's National Movement - which has been in power for the better part of the past 50 years - has enjoyed overwhelming support from Trinidad's black population. However it has also been accused of corruption and letting crime run free despite the country's relative economic prosperity.
The good news about Persad-Bissessar's election? Trinidad is likely to forge stronger partnerships with other Caribbean and South American nations, particularly Brazil which also boasts large oil and natural gas wealth, although Persad-Bissessar is unlikely to follow Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in the same way that other Caribbean leaders have done recently.
The wait-and-see news? Persad-Bissessar is only the second person of East Indian origin to hold the Prime Minister's office in Trinidad's 46-year history as an independent republic. Although the government and society has a healthy mixture of blacks and Indians, there has always been an unmentioned political push-and-pull between the two groups. The PNM is largely a black party, so it remains to be seen whether or not blacks will remain politically empowered, although Persad-Bissessar says all ethnic groups will benefit from the new administration.
The bad news? The new Prime Minister, like President Obama, is inheriting the incumbent's headaches. Trinidad's crime rate has skyrocketed over the past five years, with a growing number of kidnappings and murders. Manning was also accused of extravagant spending on government projects and of not accounting for the money. The world economic meltdown is threatening Trinidad's years of real GDP growth, and Persad-Bissessar has to find a way to stave it off before the nation's economy is affected.
The good thing is that Trinidad is among the better off of the Caribbean nations because it is not dependent on tourism for its economic strength and has enjoyed a relatively stable political climate since independence. Next lenten season, the world will arrive there for Carnival once again - but only after having monitored the Trinis to see in which political direction the winds will blow them.