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DEMANDING POLITICS BEYOND RACE
What the results of the local government elections demonstrate very clearly is dissatisfaction by segments of the electorate with the performance of the People’s National Movement government. And while the Opposition United National Congress was able to hold on to its tribal base, the party made no impression outside of that base support.
And this is notwithstanding the fact that a PNM government in office, unable to begin countering the tremendous problems facing the economy and society, was very vulnerable.
The data of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) show that in hardcore PNM electoral districts such as Laventille, Port-of-Spain, Diego Martin, the polling was at its lowest: 25 per cent; 23 per cent; 22 per cent—figures rounded off. And this is opposed to UNC constituencies such as Princes Town, Mayaro/Rio Claro, Siparia, Penal/Debe and Chaguanas, where the overall turnout was in the 40s, as high as 49 per cent in Mayaro/Rio Claro.
One conclusion to be drawn from that voting pattern (as was shown in the (1986/2010 general election in which elements of PNM’s support base/and or those who may consistently and preferably vote PNM but may not be hardcore supporters) is that PNM voters are open to voting against the party and or staying away from the polls to make a point to the PNM leadership when they think it necessary. Not so with UNC supporters, they stay with the tribe notwithstanding poor performance, as happened in the 2015 general election.
The EBC data have shown a quite significant decline in voting in this local government poll, down to 34.34 per cent compared to the high of 43.60 per cent in the 2013.
Having in 2015 removed the UNC from office against a background of corruption allegations running into billions, gross mismanagement of the economy, and a penchant for tribalism, a significant majority of the electorate invested heavily in Dr Rowley and the PNM with the expectation that they would have at least begun transformation of the economy and society.
Fourteen months later, those expectations have been dashed. In many instances, a solid effort to combat the problems has not even been attempted. The Government has not been able to halt, even slow the slide in the economy; the government has not been able to curtail criminality—no success has been achieved in relation to dismantling the criminal gangs and transforming the criminal culture.
I suggest too that a deciding factor in the withdrawal of support from the PNM in the local poll is the fact “that nobody ent get jail yet”. The allegations of corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and self-serving amongst the UNC clan that ran into billions were legend in the campaign of 2015. Every night on the platform, Dr Rowley and his team had a new story of corruption and mismanagement.
In charge of government and state enterprise documentation on the alleged corrupt governance practices of the PP/UNC government, the PNM Government has not, as far as the public is aware, been able to supply documentary evidence to the security forces for prosecution of those responsible. And it matters not if investigation takes time and cabinet members are not investigators; they are the ones who made the allegations and they are now custodians of the information. Was it all a bluff, an attempt to fool the electorate?
Also of importance in accounting for the low turnout in electoral districts such as Laventille, Port-of-Spain, Diego Martin, Point Fortin and other PNM strongholds is said to have been the deep disappointment of “supporters on the ground” who feel they have not been rewarded for their campaigning effort of 2015.
PNM officials have claimed that UNC people still proliferate in Cepep and URP while they, those who pounded the beat in 2015 to get the PNM in power, remain on the sidelines.
Over on the other side of the voting column, the EBC figures show that the UNC has gained in the number of raw votes collected by the party. However, in making the calculation of increased UNC votes it must be remembered that in 2013 there was the sharing of electoral districts between the UNC and the Congress of the People. Also, the UNC lost a quantity of votes to the Independent Liberal Party. In 2016 with the UNC contesting all the districts, the UNC naturally got back the votes it lent to the COP and the ILP last time out. So winning of the popular vote gathering 180,758 is understandable.
Nonetheless, the UNC performance in this poll was a decided improvement on 2013. As pointed out by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the party increased its clear winning number of seats from five (Chaguanas was captured when an ILP councillor shifted his allegiance to the UNC) of 2013 to six and one half in 2016. That is surely an improvement on the 2013 performance when the government of Kamla Persad-Bissessar was under deep distress and she was being pilloried for incompetence and poor governance practices.
But for this analyst, the most important message of the election is the sounding voice of those I have previously described as belonging to the defining constituency—those not seduced by race and party fanaticism. That voice is hitting back against being deceived by political parties; it’s a voice that is demanding a politics beyond race and PNM/UNC till “ah deadism”. That voice is only likely to get louder.
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