EBC rises to the challenge
Inevitably, early analyses of the local government election results have highlighted an apparent reassertion of traditional voting patterns reinforcing the thesis of two dominant “tribal” formations in the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC). Not so long ago, however, what was being celebrated was the overturn of long-standing political and electoral arrangements in which appeal to baser ethnic instincts, rather than issues and principle, is the template for electoral campaigning.
The low voter turnout for last Monday’s election—less than 30 per cent, according to initial estimates, as compared to a typical 35 to 40 per cent—could be the cause of this perception. It may be that the persons who came out to vote were the core of the core constituencies of the PNM and the UNC, with a portion of the latter also gravitating to Jack Warner’s Independent Liberal Party. But the sweeping victory in 2010 by the People’s Partnership in areas historically faithful to the PNM was possible only with the shunting aside of race and party loyalties, while it was Warner himself who, only a few months ago, hammered another nail in the coffin of racial voting when he won the by-election in the UNC Chaguanas West heartland.
It may therefore be the special circumstances of the present politics which has caused this apparent racial regress. The People’s Partnership coalition is struggling with internal coherence while failing to meet the public’s demand for transparent governance, while the PNM is yet to recover sufficiently from its 2010 loss under Patrick Manning’s leadership to have won back public confidence, let alone enthusiasm, from those swing voters who determine election victory in the marginal seats.
It is this situation which has put additional pressure on the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) in 2013, the EBC having now overseen three elections with a fourth due next month. But, if practice makes perfect, what certainly qualifies for positive notice is the performance of the commission. At a time of much hand-wringing about the capacities and accomplishments of national institutions, the commission has risen to the challenge. Not only has the conduct of the elections proceeded without any major mishaps, but citizens have even commended the professionalism and politeness of the persons chosen to staff polling stations on election day. Moreover, the EBC has also taken in stride the organisation and management of the brand-new system of proportional representation, with aldermen posts to be announced soon.
Congratulations must therefore extend to the EBC, deservingly recognised as a high-performing national institution that, crucially, most citizens consider impartial, even as the political entities they supervise make the commission’s job that much harder by politicians’ low standards of public conduct.