Parties ready for election... voters still undecided
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, October 20 2013
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Prime Minister and UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar addresses supporters during a public meeting at the Pepper Sauce Junction, Endeavour la...
This could easily be the slogan of the various political parties as voters get set to hit the polling stations for tomorrow’s keenly-anticipated Local Government election.
The election, which had all of the ingredients of a general election campaign: picong, bacchanal and bombshells, is being contested by the People’s National Movement (PNM), the new Independent Liberal Party (ILP) and several of the entities comprising the People’s Partnership (PP) — the United National Congress (UNC), Congress of the People (COP) and National Joint Action Committee (NJAC).
The PNM and the Jack Warner-led ILP have each put up 136 candidates for electoral districts within the 14 local government bodies in the country.
The members of the PP, however, after some contention, brokered an agreement early in the campaign which allowed the UNC to contest eight of the 14 corporations. The COP is contesting five corporations and the NJAC, just one, Point Fortin Borough Council.
Yesterday, the parties, in a last ditch effort to woo voters, held mass rallies in various parts of the country. The PNM had its meeting at the Eddie Hart Grounds in Tacarigua while the ILP and the UNC assembled at Endeavour Lands and Mid-Centre Mall, Chaguanas, respectively.
One wonders what effect, if any, the rallies would have on voters, at least along the East-West Corridor, as a random check carried out by Sunday Newsday, suggested that while there were die-hard supporters for both the UNC and PNM, many persons were still either undecided or had no intention of voting.
“Regardless of who wins the election, I still have to get up and come here in the morning. None of them don’t do anything for me,” a young market vendor said in the Tunapuna market last Wednesday.
The young man also lamented what he considered to be the politicians’ penchant for walking around in communities only during election periods.
“That is their habit. I can’t even say when last I see (Winston) Dookeran and I don’t even know any of the candidates going up in my area,” he said.
In Sangre Grande’s town centre, some constituents appeared to be undecided.
“I feel is time to give Jack Warner a chance because we give the others a chance and what happen. Nothing going on in Grande. We don’t even have a proper recreational facility,” one woman said.
Another woman said although her family have traditionally pledged their allegiance to the PNM, “I am not so sure who to vote for.”
A retired police officer said Warner’s ILP should be given a chance although he could not predict how the party will fare at the poll.
He said: “I think it is an indictment on all the political parties that have led this country that they (voters) would consider choosing a man with corruption allegations surrounding him than vote them (politicians) back into office.
“I keep saying that you cannot sell Warner short in this election. He has a way of giving the people what they want and the other parties would do well to be mindful of that.”
The retired officer said Warner’s overwhelming victory in the Chaguanas West bye-election signalled a major shift in the traditional patterns of voting, which tended to be along racial or party lines as opposed to the quality of representation.
Voters also were not overly impressed by the respective slates of candidates even though they acknowledged that many of them were well-qualified and appeared to have the best of intentions. Many said the campaign fell woefully short on issues and focused too much on personalities.
Nevertheless, the parties contesting the poll are each claiming victory.
The PNM, seeking to build on the momentum of its resounding 12-0 victory over the Tobago Organisation of the People (one of the coalition partners) in the January 21 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, is confident of a win despite talk of possible dissent among members and supporters over its leadership.
PNM general secretary Ashton Ford said all systems were go for the election.
“We ready!” he declared to Sunday Newsday in a telephone interview.
“We put in a lot of work and we are very confident. We made changes at the party level and did work in all of the corporations and we will surprise many people in the country.
“We will definitely be retaining the corporations that we have,” Ford declared, declining to predict how many corporations the party will take at tomorrow’s poll.
When the term of local government bodies expired in July, the PNM controlled just three corporations: Port-of-Spain City Corporation; San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation and Point Fortin Borough Council.
Ford said the PNM, the country’s oldest political party, ran a “very clean campaign” and dealt with the issues.
“Dr (Keith) Rowley led a fantastic campaign and dealt with the national issues not in any bacchanal way.”
“He has given the country something to talk about, vote for and benefit the country,” he said.
Ford said the party was particularly impressed with the contributions of the youth speakers and candidates, whom he said, were at the forefront of the campaign.
COP deputy political leader Dr Anirudh Mahabir said the COP, which is contesting five corporations on behalf of the Partnership, was upbeat and optimistic.
“We expect to at least retain what we have and make inroads. There will be a creditable showing because we have had a very good on the ground campaign,” he said.
Mahabir predicted that the COP will hold on to the Arima Borough Council and the San Fernando Borough Council.
“In Arima, we should get five out of seven (electoral districts) and in San Fernando, six out of nine,” he said. He said in the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation, the COP is expecting to win nine out of the 15 electoral districts. Mahabir said the party had also made significant inroads in the Port-of-Spain area.
Encouraged by its success in the July 29 Chaguanas West bye-election, the defection of several UNC and COP councillors to its fold and what she claimed was the people’s overwhelming response to the party during walkabouts, ILP interim deputy leader Lyndira Oudit said she was convinced that the party had positioned itself as the alternative government. She said the party’s walkabouts throughout the country discovered that people were in search of meaningful change.
“After 51 years of Independence and 37 years as a Republic we have not been able to get it right and the groundswell of support has shown that. Only a handful of people have benefitted,” she said.
Oudit said no past Prime Minister had walked in the communities and listened to the voices of the people in the manner that Warner has done.
“It all comes down to governance,” she said. Meanwhile, political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath said the outcome of the election was difficult to call.
“The thing at this point is very fluid. I will not even dare to call it,” he told Sunday Newsday on Friday. “In normal times, I would have said that the PNM will get at least about eight corporations with the possibility of two more, but I cannot read the level of the ILP’s support base.”
Ragoonath, head of the Department of Behavioural Sciences at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies, said the ILP had changed the dynamic of politics in the country.
Saying that he was adopting a wait-and-see approach, Ragoonath said the outcome of the election will be determined largely by the voter turnout.
Ragoonath said he could not say if the people who attended the ILP meetings were there out of curiousity or were genuine supporters.
“I know that about 90 percent of the people who attended PNM meetings were supporters but I cannot talk for the ILP,” he said
The analyst also lamented the calibre of the speeches on the respective political platforms.
“I am still waiting for the local government to be discussed on the platforms,” he said.