With rising intensity since announcement of the January 21 voting day, exchanges of political fire have defined the 2013 THA election campaign. Nearly six months before, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley had declared the PNM on a "war footing" for Tobago. Last weekend, a "Tobago Day" was organised as a rally of PNM-supportive Tobagonians in Trinidad.
The event underscored the extent to which the developing struggle has engaged political forces on both islands. Tobagonian Dr Rowley declared: "We stand side by side with you in defence of Tobago's heritage."
By invoking "heritage", the PNM leader is driving home to Tobagonians the message that more is at stake than retention of the THA. He is amplifying a party line promoted by the Tobago PNM leadership.
Increasingly, since the party's 2010 general election defeat on both islands, Chief Secretary Orville London and other THA leaders have been fearing encirclement, and even reflecting a siege mentality.
THA ruling party spokespersons, waving the emotive flag of "heritage", have been representing themselves as the last hope for the protection of Tobagonians' culture, identity and patrimony. Under the former national administration, however, when both Tobago parliamentary seats had been also held by the ruling PNM, "heritage" scaremongering was more or less unheard of.
In response, TOP leader Ashworth Jack has been decrying the PNM's references to "heritage" barbarians. The TOP should have no shortage of matters on the 12-year PNM record to assail and, with certain support of coalition partners, should enjoy the assurance of ample means to do so. Long before, the Partnership administration had struck first with the unilateral establishment of a Ministry for Tobago Development. In a further show of hostility, early approaches from Chief Secretary London to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar were pointedly snubbed.
For the political benefit of the TOP, the Port of Spain government has been identified with sundry economic offerings to Tobago. In addition, it has been promoting a project for self-government, rivalling another published in the name of the London THA. The THA will predictably denounce the TOP as lackeys of central power. The TOP can be expected to call the London THA to account for its long stewardship, and to condemn it as incapable of moving Tobago forward, economically or constitutionally. Meanwhile, Mr London's has engaged in a calculated delay in releasing the Milshirv project documents demanded by the central government. Over coming weeks, whetted curiosity about the documents will ensure heightened critical interest in their contents.
The London THA is also being called to account, by resident Tobagonians and by itinerant observers such as tourists criticising planned Charlotteville developments. Again, over the weeks till January 21, rampant government hatchet persons, such as Sport Minister Anil Roberts last weekend, will be sure to enjoy many field days of THA targeting.