I found it hard to believe the preliminary reports of the voter turnout in the 2013 local government elections (LGE) and they turned out to be colossally wrong.
It had been reported that 116,000-odd people voted for the PNM; 84,000 for the UNC/COP and 62,000 for the ILP. Had these figures been correct it would have meant that of the one million-odd electors only about 26 per cent voted last Monday (a total of about 262,000).
This would also have meant that since 1971 (the year of the no-vote campaign in the general election) these elections recorded the lowest voter turnout in either a general or LGE.
Late on Thursday the EBC itself contradicted the earlier reports which had been carried by all the media since Tuesday and instead reported a voter turnout of 43.12 per cent or 447, 080.
This figure is a far cry from what had earlier been declared—by whom no one knows for sure. The turnaround from the lowest to the second highest ever recorded in LGE history in T&T has left some media houses with egg on their faces, still scrambling to determine where and how they went wrong.
Despite the lack of certainty in the figures, however, it seems clear that the PNM has won at least eight of the 14 corporations and the UNC at least four.
The position in respect of the Chaguanas corporation appears to be still up in the air. Nevertheless if one were to accept the round figure of 188,000 votes as the total number of votes cast for the PNM (an estimate cited by the PNM PRO) in this round it would mean that the party secured nearly 70,000 votes more that it did in 2010, which is reported at just over 130,000.
In 2010 the EBC figures posit a total percentage of 39 per cent of votes cast. Rounding off the total electorate at a million this means that roughly 390,000 electors voted in 2010 and a total of about 267,000 voted for the combined UNC/COP, as partners in the Partnership.
If the combination of UNC and COP this year is indeed 154, 800 or so, as is claimed this would mean that the combination lost over 112,000 votes as compared to 2010, whether because of movement to the PNM or to the ILP.
This would have to be of concern to the UNC/COP coalition especially when you realise that 57,000 more people voted in this election—over four per cent more of the total electorate—than in 2010. The coalition lost, the PNM gained and the ILP took across the country a significant number of the votes cast, which some say is over 100,000 or about 23 per cent of the votes.
Prominent members of the People’s Partnership have suggested that the Government expected to be defeated. For instance, Minister Larry Howai is quoted as saying, “Well I think to a large extent the results were expected, the Government understood that...” and he then went on to say now they can focus on the economy without the distraction.
Mayor Muradali of San Fernando claims that the voters in his opinion wanted to send a strong signal that they were not happy with the Government—in explaining the reversal of 8-1 electoral districts in the San Fernando Municipal Corporation in favour of the PNM.
Minister Dookeran spoke of a “national shift” in the politics. Minister Fuad Khan suggested that “people” needed to reflect on the way forward. The Prime Minister was happy that the UNC retained its base.
The PNM has, in contrast, chalked its comprehensive wipe-outs of its opponents in four corporations and its overall success as a sign of its supremacy and the leader has called for a general election now. It might be true that the PNM reigns now but can the party truly be satisfied with having polled about 42 per cent of the total votes, fewer that the combined votes of the UNC/COP and the ILP?
The LGE might well be dubbed the mother of all local government elections. The hype, the advertisements, the meetings and the campaigning overall all bore the signs of a general election. Given the turnout of over 43 per cent, the second highest ever recorded, it seems the populace were moved or energised to vote either in protest against the Government and/or in true support of the opposition forces.
A comparison of the statistics of the last several LGE according to EBC sources bears this out.
From 1983 to 2010 the total voter turnout did not drop below 37 per cent. In 1983 it was 38.8 per cent; 1987: 39.9 per cent; 1992: 39.7 per cent; 1996 recorded the highest turnout; this was the year after the UNC/NAR coalition ousted the PNM in the general election and 43.9 per cent of the electorate voted. In 1999 that dropped to 38.7 and 2003 it was 37.9 per cent.
No elections were held by the PNM for six years but in 2010 under the Partnership there was again LGE and 39 per cent voted. To their credit the Partnership did not seek to postpone the LGE this year when it was statutorily due, as did the PNM between 2004-2009, and the chips have fallen where they did.
What exactly are those chips are still left to be seen as we await the final figures for these elections, some four days after at the time of writing.
Nonetheless it is evident that the winner—the PNM—does not yet enjoy the overall popular vote while the ILP has been shown to have a following. While the UNC may still be assured of its “base” support, this will not propel them to win any national election in the near future.
It is clear from these election results that no party, not the PNM, the Partnership nor the ILP enjoys the confidence of the majority of the voting population. What this means for a general election, constitutionally due in 19 months, remains to be seen.
* Dana S Seetahal is a former independent senator