After weeks of speculation, the Prime Minister declared that Local Government Elections will take place on Monday, August 14.
Dr Keith Rowley made the announcement via The Office of the Prime Minister Facebook page yesterday where he added that the date for nominations will be Monday, June 26. The announcement comes almost three weeks after the Privy Council ruled that the Government was wrong to postpone the elections and extend the life of municipal corporation officials by one year. Rowley has also chosen to call the poll a mere four days before the 90-day window for holding of the elections elapses.
In an immediate response, the United National Congress (UNC), in a statement yesterday, called the announcement of the election date a victory on its own.
“Due to our hard work and fighting for the protection of the rights of our citizens, Local Government Elections has finally been announced. We are on the road to victory. Stand your ground and remember, don’t tote just vote UNC.”
Government went down to the wire to undertake damage control–Rampersad
But the August 14 date came as no surprise to political scientist Dr Indira Rampersad who told Guardian Media that the Government went down to the wire to undertake damage control. The Government will utilise the close to 90 days to campaign in the polls.
“I will say they took the full length of it because there are a lot of issues they need to campaign on, at midterms Government is usually at its lowest ebb, but this Government seems to be lower than the lowest ebb with the escalating crime and home invasions, murders galore and the criminals are reigning freely, pandemonium has broken out and it’s chaotic at best.”
But last Thursday at a political meeting in Malabar, Dr Rowley announced that the People’s National Movement (PNM) will be focusing on a “single issue” which is local government reform.
Dr Rampersad said the PNM leader has to say that because there are few successes to campaign on.
“They certainly can’t campaign on achievements with crime or employment or inflation or the rising cost of living, so they come with this brilliant idea of local government reform which I don’t think one per cent of the population is interested in.”
Dr Rampersad said she was still confused as to what is the PNM’s vision for local government reform apart from extending the terms of councillors and aldermen and property tax.
Meanwhile, she expects the UNC to make some inroads in the upcoming elections.
The 2019 results saw the UNC taking 54.38 per cent of the 372,503 votes. But the People’s National Movement issued a statement a day after the December 2, 2019 elections claiming victory having won 74 districts (seats) over the UNC’s 65. Both parties won seven corporations, with the UNC capturing Sangre Grande which was previously held by the PNM.
Dr Rampersad believes their nine-seat advantage is under threat.
“I think they (UNC) can make some inroads in Sangre Grande, in Tunapuna which is very marginal, and in San Fernando where you have the constituency of San Fernando West, because of the disgruntlement with the incumbent and the poor performance of local government agents who are not touching the lives of citizens.
Dr Rampersad believes the 7-7 tie in 2019 can also become 8-6 in favour of the UNC.
She does not, however, have any confidence in a “third party” playing a significant part this time around.
“I don’t see them pulling any, they have not in the past, not even the COP (Congress of the People) which had 147,000 votes in 2007, or the ONR (Organisation for National Reconstruction)which had 90,000 votes in 1991, so I don’t see how these young new parties can do that.”
Dr Rampersad said the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) has a role to play in Tobago where it is more established. PDP leader Watson Duke told Guardian Media that his party was screening candidates, and he is confident of winning two districts along the East-West Corridor.
The political scientist also has very little faith in the Gary Griffith-led National Transformation Alliance (NTA).
“We hear the leader, but who are the members of that party?” she asked.
Dr Rampersad also anticipates another low voter turnout but one that is synonymous with Local Government Elections in this country.
“I don’t see anything beyond a 40 per cent turnout.”
In 2019 only 34.49 per cent of the electorate came out to vote.
Ragoonath: We hope that the elections will be very clean
Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, Chairman of the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour, is reiterating his call for political parties to adhere to the Code of Ethical Political Conduct.
“We hope that it will be a very clean election,” he said during an interview on the CNC3 news last night.
Dr Ragoonath explained that there is a prohibited item listed in the code and the council will be looking at that closely.
He said now that all parties have signed on to the code, “now we expect that they will focus on the elections, focus on the issues not on persons, not on personalities”
He admitted that the council has no power of sanction but rather, “we will try to use moral suasion to get the political parties to tone it down if they need to tone it down.”
He said they will also report any breaches to the national population and leave it up to voters to draw their conclusions.
Now that the elections date has been called, Dr Ragoonath said for the next two or three weeks political parties would go about finalising their candidates.
“Candidates who have already been chosen by their respective parties will start hitting the ground, knocking on doors, kissing babies, and all those sorts of things,” he added.