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Tobago votes

Sunday, January 20 2013

THE keen pursuit of votes for tomorrow’s Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections suggests the island’s 50,000 voters have an importance way beyond the tiny fraction that they constitute in the 1.2 million national population.

Indeed, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar would see a win by the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), as a key, mid-term boost to her coalition, even as Opposition Leader, Dr Keith Rowley, would like to see Tobago as a PNM bastion and also see a win as a boost nationally after the PNM lost a general and local election in 2010. Platform for Truth (TPT) leader, Hochoy Charles, wants a comeback as Tobago’s supposed champion with no strings attached to Trinidad.

The campaign has been run by political rallies, the Leaders Debate and media adverts (newspaper, television, radio and Internet sites).

In the televised debate, the PNM’s Orville London, the TOP’s Ashworth Jack and the TPT’s Hochoy Charles each summed up their policies, and moreso injected a dignity to the campaign, formerly jeopardised by the “Calcutta ship” remarks of the PNM’s Hilton Sandy.

The campaign even entered Parliament, with Persad-Bissessar laying in the Lower House a bill to alter the linkage between Tobago and Trinidad — the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill 2013. Dr Rowley, while supporting the idea of giving more powers to Tobago, hit the Government for its timing of the bill, accusing them of playing politics in the middle of an election campaign when the bill needs more time. In reply, Persad-Bissessar defended the timing, saying for 123 years Tobago was denied the right to self-government, adding, “If not now, when?”

As of now a Parliament committee will work out the bill’s details.

The Government also used Parliament to hit the PNM on the Milshirv controversy. The political campaign adverts have been a mix of humour and seriousness.

A hilarious TOP television advert portrayed Mr London as a failed husband begging for a second chance, only to be rebuffed by a woman embodying Tobago. A TOP newspaper advert had a humorous caricature of London — with salt and pepper hair, furrowed brow and tooth-gap — offering Tobagonians a potful of empty promises, including the Shaw Park Complex and Roxborough Police Station.

The PNM retorted with their own caricature of Ashworth Jack portrayed as a farmer planting magic pumpkin seeds, with the caption, “If you can’t explain your own house, what will you do if you get your hands on the Tobago House of Assembly?”. The PNM campaign motto has been, “Stand in defence of Tobago”, and, “Vote PNM, Take no chances”.

Both the PNM and TOP have issued manifestos listing their plans for running the THA if elected, with each party publishing extracts from these documents in full page press adverts. Both parties want a THA Police Service, want to lift the education and health of locals, and say many opportunities arise from natural gas being piped to the Cove Estate.

The PNM Manifesto said it has defended Tobago lands from rich foreigners in the past, and claimed that greedy persons offering blandishments now want to displace Tobagonians from their lands.

Not only arguing on Tobago issues, the PNM press adverts campaigned on national issues, hitting the ruling coalition of which TOP is a member, on issues such as the economy, state of emergency, and Section 34 controversy.

“If we suspend judgement and fail to see lessons so evident in Trinidad, we shall pay a price for generations,” said the PNM Manifesto.

The thrust of the TOP campaign has been their claim Tobago has very little benefit from London overseeing the spending of $20 billion in ten years.

The TOP Manifesto is entitled, “Tobago, Let’s Get Going”. It vows to preserve Tobago’s historical assets and to boost tourism. A TOP regime will restore Tobago’s cocoa and coconut industries, and promote food-crops by providing cold storage, freeze blasting and vacuum packing. The TOP Manifesto also promises a Tobago Sport Academy, Tobago Music and Performing Arts School, Tobago Food Security Plan and Tobago Land Use Plan, plus an end to a lack of land title.

After a report of campaign scuffles, we urge that on Election Day, Tobagonians avoid confrontations, but instead carefully mull the issues and go calmly to the polls to vote for their choice of candidate.

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