Trinidad and Tobago made history this week when it replaced one female head of state with the next in a well-organized ceremony in Port of Spain, the capital, on Monday.

Christine Carla Kangaloo took the oath of office as the oil- and gas-rich republic’s seventh ceremonial president, replacing fellow attorney and retired judge Paula Mae Weekes, who had opted not to serve a second term for personal reasons.

The country opted to upgrade its status from an independent nation to a republic 47 years ago. Kangaloo will serve as titular president for the next five years.

Opposition parties had railed against her nomination as president because she had served as a minister in the cabinet of the governing People’s National Movement (PNM) in several capacities, including legal affairs minister. The opposition argued, therefore, that she cannot be impartial and would be biased while holding a position that demands that occupants rise above the political fray. She was also president of the Senate or upper house and has acted as president on a number of occasions.

Kangaloo pointedly referred to such political misgivings from the opposition and other sections in society by noting that “as your president, I will fight to the end to make the office work better for all of us, especially those who might not yet wish to work with me.”

The Indo-dominated United National Congress (UNC) might  be especially reluctant to have Kangaloo as head of state, because late Prime Minister Ray Robinson, who had led a National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government in the past, was also selected by the local college of electors to be head of state even while he was an active politician. 

Forced to choose a government after a tie for parliamentary seats, Robinson picked the Afro-supported PNM, leading to suspicions and criticisms about racial bias.

Kangaloo said there should be no such reasons for fear and suspicion, and vowed “to fight to the end to make the office work better for all of us.”

She said that many of the 1.3 million people of the country are unsure about the exact role of the president in daily affairs. Therefore, she will embark on a program to “demystify the role. A good place to start is in the primary schools. I will make sure that the highest office in the land is not the most remote.”

In this regard, she plans to open the facilities at her official residence to the public, especially artists, academics, and musicians, to promote cultural excellence. “I truly believe T&T deserves no less,” she said, pledging relentless advocacy for openness, more public access, and less remoteness of the office.

She did take a bit of a swipe at the support system for the presidency, contending that there was not much by way of written rules and history for a new person to go on. She thanked predecessor Weekes for helping her to prepare for the role and how to navigate it. Greater attention will be paid to building a proper archive and documentation, she said.

Kangaloo will now serve as president of one of the larger Caribbean Community nations alongside retired judge Sandra Mason, who, in late 2021, became president of neighboring Barbados when it became a republic. Mason previously served as governor general. 

Incidentally, the Barbados prime minister is also a woman: Mia Mottley is widely regarded as the brightest political bulb in the 15-nation bloc and the one who is sent internationally to advocate on a number of regional issues, including the climate change fight.

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