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Tobago election: Tears and joy ahead
If Arts Minister Lincoln Douglas was the sole speaker at Thursday’s post-cabinet media briefing, it was probably because some of his other colleagues had already left for Tobago that day. That included his boss, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar who will be in Tobago until Tuesday—after Monday’s Tobago House of Assembly poll—and has even forgone an invitation to attend US President Barack Obama’s inauguration on Monday in order to tend to THA business.
Communication Minister Jamal Mohammed confirmed the PM was invited to the Washington function, but isn’t going. Douglas on Thursday showed up later that night alongside ministers Anil Roberts and Jack Warner at TOP’s Moriah meeting. Roberts, in a wry aside (possibly meant for PNM’s Hilton Sandy) said his father was Tobagonian and his mother from Calcutta. Warner pointed out his grandmother and uncle’s Moriah property.
All the PP jefes promised to “say more” at last night’s TOP meeting and undoubtedly the same applies for PNM efforts as the battle for the THA climaxes this weekend. Both sides are highly optimistic, PNMites particularly, gearing for landslide victory, the PP/TOP opening a slew of projects yesterday.
The Trinidad aspect of the “war”—Wednesday’s parliament debate of the Tobago self-government bill— was deadended, a foregone conclusion since the Opposition refused to support it. Persad-Bissessar pulled out the stops, citing the fight by Tobago’s “ah we boy”—former president Arthur NR Robinson—for Tobago autonomy and seeking to create division in PNM on the issue.
The Opposition has gambled the effects of rejecting the self-government bill and aggressively increased its push, picking up steam after supporters braced the PM in Tobago last weekend and making an issue of TOP leader Ashworth Jack’s alleged use of notes in the leaders’ debate. That situation has demonstrated the Debates Commission needs to further refine its process.
PNM general secretary Ashton Ford in Tobago yesterday confirmed PNM election machinery wizard, Martin Joseph, was also on the island. PNM is campaigning with better financing also, officials said. Still, PNMite Hilton Sandy’s “Calcutta ship” remark has validated TOP’s allegations that PNMites are pushing an anti-Indian stance.
PNM leader Keith Rowley, trying to broaden his national leadership image, will—if left to the PP—never be allowed to forget Sandy’s statement, particularly if PNM wins. It’s likely to dog Rowley as much as Section 34 has followed the PP, and Jack’s house has haunted his campaign. Though PNM’s Tobago campaign has also been haunted by a similar figure: that of the alleged $134 million Milshirv complex and recently issues with British investors.
The difference between tears and joy—victory and defeat—could be as little as two or three seats for TOP, for instance, which currently holds four of the 12 THA seats. PNM, however, is fighting to live up to poll predictions of a sweep.
This election more than others, defining Tobago’s direction, will confirm if Tobagonians truly wish the PNM to control the THA for 16 years (after the achievements of the first 12 and the results of $22 billion in funding) and forgo self-government, or if it wants a change with the TOP/PP to be able to make decisions themselves after 123 years of lobbying for empowerment.
More than PNM’s Orville London and TOP’s Jack, the election holds implications concerning the political buoyancy of Rowley’s leadership stocks and his political survival as well as his party’s future. It holds similar implications for Persad-Bissessar’s due to her high profile in the campaign, “fronting” strongly for TOP to convey Government’s commitment to Tobago.
Persad-Bissessar told Moriah supporters on Thursday that the swearing in of the new THA chief secretary was on January 24. She said 24 was lucky for her since she’d assumed UNC’s leadership on January 24, 2010 and continued victories on the 24th of other months. TOP’s Terrence Baines, hosting the meeting, said, “On Monday night who not dead, badly wounded.”
It remains to unfold how strong the power of the 24th stands at mid-term. And who will be dead, wounded—or reinvigorated.
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