Undecideds rule in Tunapuna
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, October 6 2013
click on pic to zoom in
The Eastern Main Road, Tunapuna....
It’s often been said if a political party wins the Tunapuna seat in an election, that party will more than likely win the overall poll.
Tunapuna is a marginal constituency situated between St Augustine and Tacarigua along the East-West Corridor. In the past two decades, it has been the focus of many heated election campaigns, largely because of its electoral boundaries and mixed ethnic composition.
Areas in Tunapuna, north of the Eastern Main Road, are said to be die-hard PNM supporters while those south of the Priority Bus Route and along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, including Pasea and others, are regarded as UNC.
As such, political parties, aware of the area’s ambiguous voting patterns, have often times had to redouble their efforts at winning over constituents through frequent walkabouts and public meetings in the commercial district to get to the pulse of the people.
The upcoming Local Government election is no exception.
Three entities — the People’s National Movement (PNM), the Congress of the People (COP) and the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) are expected to contest the October 21 poll.
The winning candidates will represent some 15 electoral districts which fall under the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation (TPRC), one of 11 UNC-led local government bodies in the country.
UNC’s Khadijah Ameen was the former chairman of the corporation. She represented the St Augustine South/Pasea/St Helena electoral district. Ameen, also the UNC’s Chairman, will not be contesting this election either as a councillor or alderman.
The UNC, the major political entity in the four-party People’s Partnership Government, holds six of the 15 electoral districts in the corporation while the COP controls five seats and the PNM, four.
The TPRC’s jurisdiction, apart from the communities located in Tunapuna proper, extends to several areas along the Corridor, some of which are in traditional PNM strongholds.
But the wave of popularity which ushered the PP into government following its overwhelming win in the May 24, 2010, general election, now appears to be waning Tunapuna, residents said in an interview last Wednesday.
Some, like Claris Forde, said the PNM will regain the glory it once held in the constituency decades ago when the political party was launched by the late Dr Eric Williams in 1956.
“The PNM will give them a licking,” she told the Sunday Newsday on Wednesday.
At 66, Forde, a likeable and animated woman, regards herself as a bonafide “Tunapunian.” Her family once lived in a barrack-type structure along Tunapuna Road and she fondly remembers the days when residents did not have much “but had love.”
It was also commonplace for residents and neighbours, in particular, to be one another’s keeper, she recalled.
“Back then, neighbours could give you a slap when you did something wrong and godparents also played a part in our lives. The people took care of the village,” she said.
So committed were residents to maintaining societal bonds, even the neighbourhood whe-whe banker “Dalgo” and Eugene De La Rosa, alias “Mastife,” a well-known badjohn, used to protect the young people from harm, Forde said.
“Mastife,” who lived on Balthazar Street, was once considered as one of the country’s most infamous badjohns. He lost his battle with colon cancer a decade ago at the age of 79 and was immortalised in Small Island Pride’s 1956 Calypso “Mastife, Mastife, Meet Me Down At The Croisee.”
Forde said several well known women in the community - Nora Harewood, “Baby Ward,” and “Sing Sing” also played a critical role in disciplining young people.
She said the PNM was responsible for the community spirit the area enjoyed and remains, in her opinion, the only stable party.
“It is the only party that do not put their underwear out there for people to see,” she said.
Forde is supporting the PNM incumbent for the electoral district of Tunapuna/Auzonville, Esmond Forde, in the Local Government election.
“I change he diapers,” she said. “I am not only supporting him because he is my family, but because he is genuine and he gives you a hearing.”
Harkening back to the days when past MPs like Learie Constantine, Dr Neville Connell and Eddie Hart, all of whom she claimed, sought the interest of the constituency, Forde believes Tunapuna has, once again, come full circle.
“People who leave are coming back to the PNM because Kamla (Persad-Bissessar) is not spreading the wealth,” she said.
“And who is sensible would not go to the ILP because they do not have a constitution and is not properly formed.”
Forde said ILP interim political leader Jack Warner was a disappointment on the platform and did not project the ILP as a suitable alternative, especially among the youth population.
Another longtime Tunapuna son, who did not want to give his name, also threw his support behind the PNM for the upcoming poll.
“I am a PNM supporter right through,” he declared whilst liming with a few other regulars at Kojack’s Mini Mart along Tunapuna Road.
His has a special affinity to the PNM, spawned from experiences he had had with the party’s founder Dr Williams dating back to his days as a schoolboy at Caribbean Union College in Maracas, St Joseph.
“I remember Dr Williams coming up there to give lectures and we were among the first to know when he decided to form the PNM. We became disciples of Dr Williams,” he claimed, adding that the PNM’s first publication, The Nation, was also printed at the school’s printery.
The man, who lives on Jackman Street, also said noted writer and historian CLR James, a distinguished son of Tunapuna, used to proof-read the publication and play cricket with the boys at the school.
“Tunapuna was solid PNM,” he said, acknowledging that Williams had chosen a few candidates who did not represent the area well.
As for current representative, the Congress of the People’s Winston Dookeran, this resident said “he just win he seat and we have never seen him after that.” Not all residents were fond of the PNM, though.
One resident who declared that “I never liked the PNM” also tells a familiar story of having applied for a National Housing Authority house since 1965. He claimed he never got this house “because I was not in the party.”
One C Bostic, who said he was supporting current councillor Forde in his re-election bid because he thought him an “action man who really tries”, he said, however, the undecided voters, whom he described as a group “midway between the middle class and upper class,”as well as youths will influence the outcome of the election.
“There are a lot of people just sitting on the fence,” said C Bostic.
He didn’t think the COP and ILP will make much of a difference in Tunapuna.
Home to the late internationally renowned pianist Winifred Atwell, whom residents believed, was a sterling example of the good that has come from the area, Tunapuna was the embodiment of family, community, sport and culture, one of Atwell’s relatives said.
The relative, who now lives in the home in which the famous pianist was raised on Jubilee Street, said:
“Tunapuna has always been a well-connected place where families socialised among themselves. I remember my father playing cricket on a Sunday morning in the area where we now have the administrative complex. In those days, when you walked the streets people respected you.”
She said families such as the Ramlogans, Springers, Fletchers, Arneaus, Thompsons and Narinesinghs (owners of the Monarch cinema), all of whom owned their own homes, were prominent names in the community.
Now, she said, Tunapuna has changed almost to the point where some people no longer have regard for their neighbours.
“People are surprised at how the area has changed. I used to think of Tunapuna as a little Woodbrook or St James in the east,” she said.
Residents lamented that the crime situation has impacted the constituency, especially in a heavily-populated area off Fairley Street, known as “The Zone.”
“For about the past eight years, it has been like a battleground up there. Up there used to be PNM but I hear they gone green (referring to the ILP),” one woman said.
“Tunapuna has changed. There is not as much togetherness and there are a lot of strange people that have moved in. It is no longer a generational thing.” Carnival, though, remains a staple on the area’s annual calendar. “Despite the challenges, we still manage to have traditional, conventional mas, steelband and stickfighting every year,” said Bertrand Goodridge, chairman of the Tunapuna Carnival Committee.
President of the Tunapuna Chamber of Commerce Taran Singh is hoping that despite the area’s status as a marginal constituency, people will vote based on the performance of their representatives as opposed to race or party.
“At least, from a business standpoint, that is where our interest lies. It is all based on candidates who display that they can give back and provide services because there are many challenges like flooding and garbage collection,” Singh told Sunday Newsday.
“The community knows who the candidates are and some have a track record. So, the people should be sure of who they are voting for.”