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Tobago votes tomorrow

By Irene Medina Associate Editor

Tobago goes to the polls in 24 hours.

After 11 weeks of heated campaigning, some 46,607 Tobagonians are expected to vote tomorrow for a new Tobago House of Assembly (THA) executive to govern their affairs for the next four years.

The election brings the curtain down on what has been intense, and, at times, acrimonious campaigning on the island.

It has pitted Tobagonian against Tobagonian as voters threw their support behind their favourite party in this three-way race.

The three contenders are the incumbent People's National Movement led by Orville London; main opponent and key arm of the People's Partnership Government, the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) led by Ashworth Jack and the Tobago Platform for Truth, led by a former chief secretary Hochoy Charles.

Last Friday the battle for the THA intensified with thousands of supporters coming out to support their party on the campaign trail, for an election that is being viewed by political analyst Derek Ramsamooj as a referendum on the leadership of both Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Political Leader of the People's National Movement (PNM) Dr Keith Rowley.

And Trinidad Express columnist and University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Winford James says of the THA election, "The political and economic gains are high."

He pointed to the potential oil and gas reserves on the island as well as the fact that the political futures of Rowley and Persad-Bissessar were at stake. 

From the heightened election fever which has gripped not only Tobago, but Trinidad as well, with political ads dominating both traditional media and social media, it is clear that the fight is between the London led PNM and Jack's TOP—by extension between the Partnership and the PNM.

It is also clear that this THA election is not an ordinary one.

Both Ramsamooj and James agreed last week that tomorrow's elections was crucial to all sides.

They agreed that never before had any THA election consumed the Trinidad public so much and explained why it was critical to the Partnership and the Opposition.

James said a win for the TOP was a win for the Partnership.

"The People's Partnership wants to regain credibility and traction nationally through a TOP win in Tobago." 

Since it came to power in May 2010, the government has faced challenges, including two Cabinet reshuffles, a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister, public marches against Section 34, industrial action from the labour movement and charges of corruption and inefficient governance, rising unemployment and a failing economy.

James said: "Both the PP and PNM are eyeing the considerable oil and gas reserves in Tobago waters and the political potential they offer up for constitutional reform towards full Tobagonian autonomy."

The issue of self government was a big one in this election and Persad-Bissessar took many by surprise when she brought the Tobago bill to the House to discuss the burning issue.

Not to be rushed into any agreement on the future of Tobago, Rowley took a risky gamble when he told Tobagonians that he would not be rushed into giving support to the bill.

James, a fellow Tobagonian, also pointed out that "Rowley's credibility as both PNM and potential PM is on the line".

On the issue of race which has also for the first time reared its ugly head, James explained: "There's a deep fear, especially among Afros, of rising Indo economic power and proclivity for expansion of that power." 

Ramsamooj said in the past it was considered to be primarily a Tobago affair, one of the reasons the electorate had placed such great importance on the election now was because of its impact on the leadership of the two major parties.

"When one looks at the political climate in T&T, the THA elections can be viewed as a referendum on both the leadership of the prime minister and the opposition leader.

The Prime Minister's presence on the TOP's platform was one of the critical factors that transformed this Tobago affair to a possible national referendum.

The issues of the Tobago elections, especially within the framework of the proposed green paper and the ongoing dialogue with respect to the energy potential of Tobago have contributed to the national significance of this THA  elections," he said.

He said, "The conversation that was initiated by Mr Hilton Sandy with respect to the Calcutta statement has also placed in the national domain, the political criteria of tribal voting which previously had a minimal role in the THA election."

Ramsamooj also pointed out that the interest displayed by the media and the utilisation of social media platforms created a campaign which stimulated interest amongst swing voters, first time voters and younger voters.

He said: "One of the benefits of this election campaign has been the willingness of the political leaders to put themselves under public scrutiny via a national debate, which has also created a level of interest not only from the business sector but various Tobago stakeholders."

There are those who are predicting a high voter turnout this time around, given the dynamics of this particular elections.

In 2009, 56.39 per cent or 24,034 people exercised their franchise to vote in that election, according to the Elections and Boundaries Commission.

Whatever the outcome tomorrow, the winning team is expected to be announced during the early hours of Tuesday morning by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) when the ballots are counted from the 67 polling divisions spread around the island.

The 12 Electoral Districts being contested and number of voters:  1.Bacolet/Mount St George-3,505  2.Bethel/Mt. Irvine-2,059  3.Black Rock/Whim/Spring Garden-4,287  4.Buccoo/Mount Pleasant-4,042  5.Belle Gardens/Goodwood-3,961  6.Canaan/Bon Accord-3,774  7.Lambeau/Signal Hill-4,116   8.Parlatuvier/ L'Anse Fourmi/Speyside-3,512  9.Plymouth/Golden Lane-3,702  10.Providence/ Mason Hall/Moriah-4,084   11.Roxborough/Delaford-3,625  12.Scarborough/ Calder Hall-3,940 List of candidates for all three parties Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) T They are: incumbent Ashworth Jack for Providence/Mason Hall/Moriah; Steve Jack for Goodwood/Belle Garden and Rolly Quaccoo for Canaan/Bon Accord; Fitzherbert Taylor for Parlatuvier/L'anseFourmi/Charlotteville; Anslem Richards for Roxborough/Delaford; Pastor Chester Robinson Alleyne for Lambeau/Signal Hill; Sherry Ann Rollocks-Hackett for Bethel/Mt Irvine; Theodil Mc-Pherson for Black Rock/Whim; Anthony Arnold for Scarborough/Calder Hall; Richard Alfred for Buccoo/Mt Pleasant, Certica Williams-Orr for Plymouth/Golden Lane and Gladstone Solomon for Bacolet/Mt St George.   People's National Movement (PNM) Incumbent Chief Secretary Orville London for (Scarborough/Calder Hall);   Claudia Groome-Duke, Black Rock/Whim/Spring Garden; Tracey Davidson-Celestine, Parlatuvier/L'Anse Fourmi/Speyside, Hilton Sandy (Roxborough/Delaford) Godwin Adams (Plymouth/Golden Lane); Jomo Pitt, Lambeau/Signal Hill; Pastor Handel Beckles, Bethel/Mt Irvine; Ancil Dennis, Buccoo/Mt Pleasant; Joel Jack, Bacolet/Mt St George; Sheldon Cunningham, Providence/Mason Hall/Moriah; Huey Cadette Canaan/Non Accord, and Hayden Spencer, Belle Garden/Goodwood.   Tobago Platform for Truth (TPT) Hochoy Charles, Plymouth/Golden Lane; Andre Philips Scarborough/Calder Hall; Senya Martin Roxborough/Delaford; Curtis Douglas Black Rock/Whim/Spring Garden; Samuel Mapp Parlatuvier/L'anse Fourmi/Speyside; Petrina Shanghie, Belle Garden/Goodwood; Juliana Henry King, Bacolet/Mt. St. George; David Fraser, Lambeau/Signal Hill; Haynes Cowie-Clarke, Bethel/Mt. Irvine; Buccoo/Mt. Pleasant Ricardo Phillip; Canaan/Bon Accord Barry nelson; Providence/Mason Hall/Moriah, Ernest Belfon.

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