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Crucial Tobago election

GEORGE ALLEYNE Wednesday, November 14 2012

When Tobago goes to the polls on January 21 for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election it will be one of the most crucial in the island’s history, what with the mounting possibility that the outcome may very well determine, at the national level, whether the ruling People’s Partnership (PP) coalition or the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) wins the Trinidad and Tobago General Election constitutionally due in 2015.

Both political groups will be involved in the January 21 election, the People’s National Movement, which today controls the Tobago House of Assembly, and the People’s Partnership, through its Tobago constituent unit, the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP). Although the outcome may be a decisive factor in the national polls, the electors, whether consciously or unconsciously, will also determine the nature of constitutional reform in Trinidad and Tobago, with specific reference to the troubling issue of proportional representation.

It is still early to predict the political thrust of the PNM in Tobago, led by Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary, Orville London, or the opposition Tobago Organisation of the People, whose leader, Ashworth Jack, is seeking his party’s control of the Assembly. What has emerged, however, over the past several months has been not only constitutional reform, but the intensely disturbing issue of proportional representation.

It is to be hoped that mud slinging will not be a feature of this election and that every effort will be made to resist the urge to raise matters, knowing them to be false, specifically matters which have already been decided by the courts in which individuals have been fully cleared.

Because of the importance of the upcoming THA election the opposing groups will be certain to throw their heavyweights into the battle. In addition to this, the ruling PP coalition can be expected to issue official and semi-official statements about what it proposes to do for Tobago. In the process, though, it should be careful to avoid a dismissive attitude to the THA’s authority. An advantage which Government has, it should be pointed out, is that Government Ministers can and most likely will make official trips to Tobago as well as wide ranging official pronouncements on Tobago issues.

People’s National Movement candidates, particularly THA Secretaries going up for re-election will, undoubtedly, expand on projects within their portfolios. Nevertheless, the upcoming election is not going to be as polite as the immediate above may suggest.

Meanwhile, care should be taken to avoid attempts by persons, not entitled to do so, to have their names included in the voters’ lists, even though their places of residence may be in Trinidad or their place of birth and official residence in another Caricom country.

However critical an election victory may be, such practices should not be condoned.

This column had referred earlier to the question of proportional representation. Proportional representation can be a racially divisive factor and a principal purpose is its being designed to keep a particular party or group in power indefinitely. Or perhaps the phrasing should be for as long as possible. We have seen the effect that it has had in fellow Caricom member state, Guyana, where the People’s National Congress (PNC) under Forbes Burnham, smarting because of the 1957 and 1961 electoral victories of the People’s Progressive Party [PPP], under Dr Cheddi Jagan, prevailed upon the United Kingdom government (Guyana was then a British colony) to introduce proportional representation in 1964.

The PNC won the 1964 elections. Burnham had formed a coalition of convenience with Peter D’Aguiar’s right wing United Front. Once in office the PNC positioned itself to return to power through PR in the General Elections of 1968 and 1973, after ditching the United Front.

Later, the PNC would yield to the PPP in Guyana general elections.

Today, the PNC is out of power and the PPP rules because, ironically, of the proportional representation system. In the meantime, the iniquitous PR system has done and continues to do untold psychological damage to Guyana. Proportional representation is one political form which the people of Trinidad and Tobago should reject, unreservedly.

But I have strayed.

Constitutional reform is an issue dominating the minds of most Tobagonians. Tobago residents may have a preference, for example, for certain provisions of the Scotland Act of 1998, with specific reference to the power vested in the Scottish parliament which gives it the right to vary the income tax rate in Scotland and to alter Scottish law. The latter would of course be an upgrade of the fixed percentage of the national Budget as obtains today with respect to Tobago. On to the January 21 THA election.

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