THE Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has been dissolved and the campaign for a new THA has begun in earnest. Will London's PNM be returned for a fourth straight term? Or will Kamla and Jack's Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) — forgive me, Ashworth Jack's — prevail? Perhaps the electorate have already made up their minds, but since we don't know for sure, there's no harm in speculating a bit.
Voting in a general election is both a collective and personal thing. It is collective when people vote as a bloc — as in the case of members and sycophants of both the People's National Movement (PNM) and TOP — and it is personal when people vote as individuals on the basis of either what is known in our culture as 'the issues' — like corruption, non-performance, misgovernment, handling of the economy, stagnation of initiative — or particular idiosyncrasies — like a candidate's smile, way of speaking, oratorical style, belief in a religious doctrine.
The Tobagonian electorate is divided into the following blocs: a PNM constituency, a TOP constituency, small religious groups that do not vote, individuals who are undecided, individuals who are decided, and individuals who do not vote. Neither the PNM nor the TOP can win the election only on the strength of their membership votes. They will need many migrants from each other and a big chunk of the undecided.
How will they win over enough migrants and undecideds? It seems the best way is by vigorous prosecution of 'the issues' on the hustings. What might these issues be? The following are great candidates. For the PNM: i) the People's Partnership's relentless misgovernment of the, ii) the People's Partnership's disrespect for, and undermining of, the authority of the THA, iii) the People's Partnership's disregard for the 'democratic' process used to formulate the THA Bill for constitution reform, iv) Ashworth Jack's unsuitability for the post of Chief Secretary, v) the UNC grab for Tobagonian land and oil, and vi) a need to balance government power by keeping Tobago under the PNM.
For the TOP: i) no act of transformation after 12 years of PNM government, ii) the peculiar Milshirv deal, iii) decline of the tourism sector, iv) no auditing of the THA accounts in years, v) victimisation of TOP supporters in respect of jobs and contracts, and vi) a better deal for Tobago with TOP as part of the People's Partnership.
Now these are major issues with a potential for deep emotional and intellectual appeal; they would require speakers who are possessed of their information and can articulate credibly, stylishly, and coherently. Apart from Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Ashworth Jack (who are default choices), who would the TOP use? Apart from the default Keith Rowley and Orville London, who would the PNM use?
Of particular interest, would the PNM accommodate the formidable talents of Vanus James, Hochoy Charles, and Deborah Moore-Miggins, none of whom can bear to see the feckless Jack occupy the Chief Secretary's chair and gift the THA to the UNC? And if Vanus and them were to join the PNM campaign, would some TOP supporters be motivated to migrate to the PNM this time?
If I were able to vote, I would consider the following three groups of questions above all others. The first group: Has the PNM transformed Tobago in the last 12 years? If not, is the transformation going to come in the next four years? What's there in PNM politics and government that persuades us it will? Does Orville London deserve a fourth term of office? Why has the PNM not identified a successor for London, going into these elections?
The second group: Is a TOP within a People's Partnership that cannot prevent itself from constantly misgoverning the country the party to lead Tobago for the next four years? Does Ashworth Jack have the right credentials for the job of Chief Secretary? Will the People's Partnership give us, before the elections, the promised reform of the Constitution — in particular, a reform that features a federal system in which both islands have responsibility for managing their own affairs under a federal government composed of representatives from both islands and having responsibility for agreed federal matters?
The third group: If there is no reform, does either party know how to govern democratically within the present legal framework? Do they know how to govern so that the various constituencies, publics, and interest groups can constrain legislation and public policy? Can they govern for real public accountability? Are they interested in so governing?
Even if I were not able to vote, these would still be the critical questions for me.
I am pretty clear on the answers to them but I suspect that many in the electorate who will want to vote on issues are not.
Shh! Don't ask for my answers now since I am sure clarity will develop in the seemingly long hustings we have been given. For the moment, though, for many undecideds and would-be migrants, the choice is between a rock and a hard place.