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Foreign influence dictating election campaign

Sunday, August 9, 2015
UNC campaign manager Rodney Charles speaking to reporters in front of the construction site for the St Joseph Police Station on the Eastern Main Road, yesterday. PHOTO: CHARLES KONG SOO

As the general election draws nearer political parties are kicking their campaigns into high gear and it is clear new strategies are being employed as opposed to conventional T&T methods of wooing voters.

In the case of the People’s Partnership (PP), a more targeted and focused approach is being used to attract voters through its “No Rowley” and Kamla 2015 campaign.

On the other hand, the People’s National Movement (PNM) is employing a softer, more informal strategy to appeal to its target audience with its “Conversations with the Political Leader” campaign as opposed to mass political meetings.

Political analyst Maukesh Basdeo and GM Advertising Ltd managing director Gail Merhair, an image and public relations consultant, said that obviously foreign influences were dictating the 2015 election campaign in T&T. 

The new strategies range from the contentious automated calls, as well as emails, from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to the more personal, informal settings of PNM meetings where audience members ask questions and interact with candidates. 

“These are campaign strategies that we are seeing here that were not tried before,” Basdeo said. 

The PP’s “No Rowley” campaign and social media methods were new campaign strategies in T&T which, he said, were borrowed from campaign strategies seen outside.

However, both Basdeo and Merhair agreed that the success of these new methods would only be determined when voters cast their ballots on September 7.

Political analyst Dr Hamid Ghany, in his assessment of the campaign strategies thus far, said the two major parties are taking each other head-on and are engaging in negative campaigning with neither “giving an inch.”

However, he believes the deciding factors of the campaign will hinge on the candidates and the parties’ plans.

“It is difficult to tell whether the negative campaigning on both sides is having a positive or negative effect at this stage. In such a scenario, the candidates and the manifestos will become important as game changers for either side as there is still an element of the population that would like to see these two items clearly laid out in such a way that they could be moved to vote for one or the other,” Ghany said via email. 

What is campaign 2015 about?

The focus of the 2015 campaign, Basdeo said, has taken a new presidential-style dimension, pitting the leaders against each other.

“In a presidential campaign the focus is on the individuals. So you have a representative of the Democratic Party, a representative of the Republican Party and when you look at the strategies right now the emphasis is on the political leader of the UNC/PP (Kamla Persad-Bissessar) and the political leader of the PNM (Dr Keith Rowley),” he said.

The PP’s campaign is being run by Rodney Charles, who was credited with the PP’s 2010 victory. 

The PP has reportedly hired a foreign firm to assist with its campaign, though the party has denied this even after having parted ways with long-time political strategist Ernie Ross of Ross Advertising.

Basdeo said the methods being employed by the PP were similar to the overwhelmingly-successful campaign used by UK Prime Minister David Cameron who won re-election in a landslide victory in May.

The PP has employed a team of strategists from the UK which was involved in Cameron’s Conservative Party’s success, he said. 

“If you look at the strategy that was used in the last (UK) election, which was a couple months ago, that strategy was so successful in the UK. The question is, will it be successful here? (There have been) a lot of the complaints about the “No Rowley campaign” and so on. (The campaign) is a result of a strategy that was used outside of T&T and in the UK and they (the team) have been very successful,” he said. 

Ghany added that the PP had built its strategy around its performance in office and its record of delivery alongside denials of corruption in the Government. 

“This can be seen in their manifesto that has been presented to the population which comes after a period of office during which they have highlighted their accomplishments,” he said.

The PNM, on the other hand, he said, was relying on the issue of alleged corruption in the Government as their key strategy. 

“This has been their mantra for the last three years and they have built a root and branch strategy on this that has Section 34 as the root and other allegations as branches stemming out of that root,” Ghany said.

The PNM, he said, also had its own brand of negative campaigning which was based on removing Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar from office “on the basis of a sustained negative campaign attack on her person based on their perceptions of lifestyle issues and personal judgment that also includes her personal accoutrements as part of that repertoire of attack.”

The PP has hit back at this, he said, with their own brand of negative campaigning which highlights Dr Rowley’s lifestyle issues and “personal judgment based on anger challenges using former prime minister Patrick Manning’s own words about him, as well as the absence, to date, of any specific policy plans for a Rowley-led PNM administration.”

Cameron’s campaign vs PP’s similarities

David Cameron’s return to Downing Street after winning an outright majority in May was attributed to what the British media described as “one of the most tightly-controlled electoral campaigns in British history.”


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