A billboard in Tarouba promoting UNC leadership challenger Vasant Bharath.

United National Congress stalwart Carlos John has urged a change in the party’s leadership towards contender Vasant Bharath – but former MP Suruj Rambachan has expressed concern about possible low voter turnout in elections on Sunday.

Rambachan said the campaign’s been brutal and healing may not occur for a very long time.

The UNC’s leadership and its executive posts will be contested from 8 am to 6 pm on Sunday at 78 polling stations, including one in Tobago. The rarest number of stations – five – will be in Siparia.

Incumbent leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, defending the position, is expected to speak at a UNC virtual meeting tonight. Billboards supporting Bharath have been set up in Tarouba, Chase Village, McBean, Piarco and Princes Town.

Bharath recently spoke of returning stalwarts who’ve been alienated from the party and having an elders’ committee comprising former MPs. Subsequently, it was revealed that among those supporting Bharath are former Cumuto Manzanilla MP Christine Newallo-Hosein and former MP Adesh Nanan.

His team members indicated certain well-known recent former MPs support him – but some of those yesterday remained silent.

John, a former MP and minister in the Basdeo Panday UNC regime, yesterday said a change in the party will be a breath of fresh air.

“Looking at UNC, it’s stagnated and requires rebirth. We give everyone full kudos for their contribution but when the race ends, it’s beneficial for the entity – and the country it’s entrusted to protect – to hand over the baton,” John told the T&T Guardian.

Former Congress of the People (COP) MP in the Opposition Prakash Ramadhar says he isn’t eligible to vote but noted Bharath would be an asset to any party.

“ …When Vasant was in the People’s Partnership he was always an asset and whenever there was difficulty, he had a solution. I look forward to a healthy UNC election as they’re the legitimate Opposition essential to democracy,” Ramadhar said.

“I wish all contenders and UNC well and particularly that in the end, more credibility will be added to the politics than can be removed.”

Former PP MP Stacy Roopnarine, when asked if she was supporting Bharath, said she wasn’t involved in the elections and as of right now “hadn’t decided if she’d vote.”

Roopnarine’s replacement, ex-Oropouche West MP Vidya Guyadeen-Gopeesingh, said, “I wish everyone the best … I’ll support who can take UNC into government and who’d would have appreciated foot soldiers’ work.”

Rambachan said Persad-Bissessar’s campaign had failed to present plans for the UNC and was depending on members’ emotions.

“Having people sign support letters and make statements doesn’t point to deep changes,” Rambachan said.

He said Bharath presented a plan but he (Rambachan) disagreed with Bharath that the election is about culture of Indian loyalty.

Rambachan said, “UNC supporters left the party in 1981 for ONR. They also left to support COP. They change for the right reason and where they’re convinced you’re presenting a logical case. They’ve never been afraid to change. (Winston) Dookeran won Tunapuna. But the same voters didn’t vote for UNC in 2015.

“Divisions now being created will last a long, long time. I won’t be surprised if people search for and even create their own third force, or force unity like they did in 1983 with the accommodation that led to NAR.”

Rambachan said the UNC’s campaign has been acrimonious, especially on social media and he felt there was risk of low turnout.

“A divided UNC will fall in 2025. The road to recuperation after elections will be long, I don’t think there’ll be full healing: this election was brutal for the wrong reasons. But members must put a halt to the rut that’s set in – direct what they want.”