Vast petroleum and natural gas reserves discovered in the late 1990s helped stabilize the economy. In 1995 Basdeo Panday of the United National Congress (UNC) beat the PNM’s Patrick Manning in a controversial election, seating the first prime minister of Indian descent. A stalemated political process saw Manning win the 2002 and 2007 elections. With his popularity failing amid a slew of corruption scandals, Manning called an early election in 2010 and was trounced by the People’s Partnership (PP), a coalition of the UNC and COP parties led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who became the republic’s first female prime minister. Trinidad and Tobago’s party politics had long been divided along ethnic lines, with the PNM being the predominant party of Afro-Trinidadians and the UNC representing the Indian community, and for many, the PP government was seen to represent a new start by many. Nonetheless, the PP were no more successful than the PNM in dealing with the key issues of high crime and deep-seated corruption, and the 2015 general election saw the PNM return to power under PM Keith Rowley.
Social inequality has long been a huge issue in Trinidad and Tobago. Over the past decade the economy has grown steadily, thanks especially to foreign investment and the oil and gas industry, though the global recession is now starting to bite. But despite Port of Spain’s new skyscrapers and shopping malls, and a strong energy sector, some 21% of Trinbagonians still live in poverty, many without easy access to adequate housing or quality health care. There are government programs in place to try and address poverty, such as CEPEP, which pays the unemployed to do half-days of manual labor, but bridging the gap between rich and poor remains a massive challenge.