It was the election that will forever be defined by the fear of Jack, with the two main rivals scrambling to protect their bases until Warner’s propensity for excess tripped him up shortly after Nomination Day, slipping the momentum from his grasp.
Quickly, the PNM re-grouped and re-focused, leaving the UNC and the ILP to battle it out. With Warner huffing and puffing and threatening to blow its house down, the UNC at no stage felt confident enough to take its eyes off its base and re-focus its strategy.
At 43.2 per cent, this election has entered history as the highest ever voter turnout for a local government election, even if marginally so. But for an election fought on the scale of a general election, it remains far from the 70 per cent turnout in the May 2010 general election. The absent 27 per cent has now come into sharp relief as the core of the Constituency of the Centre.
Despite the ethnic extremism of political desperation, the growth of the Centre is, by the logic of history and culture, unstoppable.
It is the genuine third force in our politics which, over time, has become substantial enough to determine the political course of this country. What it has not yet achieved, however, is the confidence, organisation and self-knowledge to challenge the ethnic formations and mount a platform of its own.
Instead, it keeps opting for tactical alliances with one or the other, even with the clear evidence of their dwindling might as evident in the recent election.
The UNC’s all-out campaign to protect its base yielded support of just over 12 per cent of the electorate. Even if we were to assume that the entire COP vote came from UNC supporters, the figure comes up to just around 15 per cent.
This range of between 12 to 15 per cent might be the strongest indicator yet of the size of the UNC hardcore, which would demonstrate why alliances and partnerships are so vital to the survival of the UNC and critical to its aspirations for political office.
While the PNM’s longer career as a party in government makes it more difficult to estimate its hardcore, its polling of roughly 13 per cent in the 2010 local government election, when it was fresh out of office and stripped to the core, does offer some basis for a parallel.
In the case of the UNC, former supporters who crossed to the ILP on October 21 cannot be claimed as part of the UNC’s ethnic base. Their open-ness to being wooed and won puts them into the Centre, even if at the outer ring, where political support is negotiable and not based solely on the automatic solidarity of the defined ethnic group.
This changing profile of the electorate within the context of an obsolete, defiant and change-resistant political matrix is at the heart of our deep political distress.
After almost 45 years of Lloyd Best’s championing of the New Politics of a participatory democracy built from the ground up, the idea survives today as no more than a slogan in the hands of those most trapped in the old politics.
However, 37 years after the ethnic behemoths put the squeeze on his Tapia House Movement, the political landscape has been transformed. Despite their vehemence, the ethnic blocs are on the retreat with the Centre coming more squarely into focus with its cry for new politics.
Even so, there is as yet no sign that the Centre has found the confidence and capacity to organise itself outside of the ethnic-based political outfits to which it continues to concede primacy of place, limited as they are.
While the COP in its time, and now the ILP, aspire to the constituency of the Centre, neither is a creation of it. Born as breakaway factions of the UNC, the COP in 2007 and, now, the ILP, have offered themselves as a third party without quite rising to the level of a third force, distinguishable by policies and programmes. The same could be said of the ONR as a breakaway faction of the PNM in 1981.
As it stands now, the PNM’s triumph, especially in marginal constituency areas, would suggest that the Centre is now trending towards the PNM.
As it demonstrated in 1991 and 2001, the PNM, under circumstances similar to what now exists with the Partnership Government, has the capacity to woo and win enough of the Centre to return to government.
But since 1981 and the end of the Williams era, it has not demonstrated the ability to keep the Centre. What that would require is an issue that the party is yet to engage publicly, focused as it has been since 1986, on winning over enough of the Centre to return to office.
For the UNC, 2015 may already be lost. The Partnership’s constituency is gone leaving a few relics in the cabinet within a UNC government. Like every other doomed party in government, the UNC and its partners show no evidence of the capacity to rescue themselves by bringing the leadership to heel as a first step in re-gaining the confidence of their constituencies.
As for the ILP, it is hard to see how it can change course now.
The arithmetic of election results by which UNC and ILP votes add up to victories, is an illusion. The ILP’s core constituency of disaffected supporters of the People’s Partnership will vanish if it enters the Partnership.
Warner’s own stocks, which so mystified the Prime Minister by its dramatic rise after she fired him, will immediately collapse if he returned to the Partnership since, in opposition, he has reaped the benefits of the public’s loss of confidence in the PM and her government.
Still, while the PNM, UNC and ILP are the main players on the field right now, each would do well to keep their eyes firmly on the centre forward.