Parties beware: Don’t take voters for granted
The media prematurely based on preliminary figures available on election night wrongly reported a low 26 per cent voter turnout for last Monday’s local government elections.
However, figures released on Friday by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) now show that 43.5 per cent of the electorate – over 450,000 voters – went to the polls, a record for a local government election.
This turnout was no doubt partly due to the kind of campaigns waged by the main parties, with the United National Congress, the People’s National Movement, and the Independent Liberal Party spending general election dollars in advertising. But citizens also came out in order to make their feelings about the present state of governance known.
One such feeling, clearly, is widespread disenchantment with the ruling People’s Partnership.
The People’s Partnership got significantly fewer votes than it did in the 2010 local government poll and reduced its control from 11 to just five corporations. By contrast, the PNM won handsomely in the nine corporations it took, with 189,885 votes.
Even more significantly, the PNM also performed well in areas where the party has rarely or never been represented. The PNM was victorious in three of the eight districts in the UNC heartland of the Chaguanas borough and, tellingly, in four of nine districts in the Regional Corporation of Siparia, which is Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s constituency.
This means that assertions about a return to tribal voting were, at best, premature. On the contrary, the local government results imply that the population is moving beyond voting by race, and PNM leader Keith Rowley should be especially encouraged by these results, since they suggest that the PNM has begun to regain some of the public trust lost between 2001 and 2010.
By contrast, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar’s assertion that the UNC was happy to have retained its base can only be interpreted as an admission that the party has regressed. After all, any political party which can only depend on its diehard supporters for votes cannot, in the existing demography of Trinidad and Tobago, claim to be a truly national organisation.
It would also be specious to argue, as some UNC spokespersons have been doing, that were it not for the internal split which led to the formation of Jack Warner’s ILP, the Partnership would have been victorious. Such logic is suspect, because a significant percentage of the ILP’s votes may have been more anti-UNC than pro-ILP.
The ruling coalition is therefore now on the backfoot, while the PNM can build on this mid-term victory. But, no matter what their strategies, the election results should send a clear message to all politicians that voters now expect better representation in return for their ballot.