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Message from Barataria
Last Monday the voters of the electoral district of Barataria sent a message when they installed Sharon Maraj-Dharam as the United National Congress (UNC) councillor for their area. The significance of the victory was that they had changed from People’s National Movement (PNM) to UNC in a district that has swung between these two major parties.
In the July 2010 local government elections, the UNC won the district with 2,570 over the PNM with 1,562 votes. In the October 2013 local government elections, there was a swing back to the PNM by 2,130 to 1,406 with the ILP getting 771 votes. In the November 2016 local government elections, the PNM held the district by a 1,898 to 1,506 margin. In Monday’s by-election, the district swung back to the UNC by a margin of 1,933 to 1,825 votes.
This particular district is what would be considered a swing district and would normally be used by political scientists as one of those areas where one could take the political temperature of a certain region to assess what is happening on the ground.
The size of the electorate is always a critical marker and in this by-election the size of the electorate in Barataria was 10,207, a drop by ten votes from the last time. The other analytical tool is to go inside the numbers in each polling division in the district to assess how the parties actually fared on the day of the by-election.
Of the 17 polling divisions, the UNC increased their actual numbers in all over 2016 except for one where they got exactly the same as in 2016. The PNM increased their vote numbers in seven of the 17 polling divisions and decreased in nine while remaining exactly the same in one.
The outcome was balanced on a knife’s edge going into the final two ballot boxes from Polling Divisions 1335 and 1336 that were being awaited according to media reports. The PNM was leading in nine polling divisions and the UNC was leading in six with only Polling Divisions 1335 and 1336 to come in. That is where the election made its final tilt towards the UNC. In 2016, PD 1335 was won by the PNM 197-72 and this time it went again for the PNM 226-86. However, it was a different story in PD 1336 which had gone 251-101 for the UNC in 2016 and now went 305-101 for the UNC last Monday.
The final margin of victory was 108 votes in favour of the UNC overturning a 392-vote deficit. There is speculation about a Muslim backlash to actions emanating from the Government towards the Muslim community which may have played itself out in this particular electoral district. There is no conclusive way to prove that, however, it was very significant that Nafeesa Mohammed, a prominent member of the Mohammedville community in that district and a former deputy leader of the PNM, gave a media interview that basically said that there was a Muslim backlash.
Political strategists will want to search for possible reasons for the swing. In four polling divisions, there was a reversal of fortunes for the PNM in relation to the 2016 result. In PD 1325 there was a reversal from a PNM 2016 lead of 107-64 to a UNC lead of 76-75. In PD 1375 there was a reversal from a PNM 2016 lead of 61-28 to a UNC lead of 56-48. In PD 1380 there was a reversal of a PNM 45-31 lead in 2016 to a 55-36 UNC lead. In PD 1395 there was a reversal of a PNM 67-61 lead in 2016 to a UNC lead of 76-59 last Monday.
These granular details are useful to get a sense of what happened on the ground in such a close election. The general trend was towards the UNC and that is what must be understood.
There has been a lot of commentary about the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar ever since the UNC lost the general elections of 2015. However, she has won two leadership contests in the party (2015 and 2017) and after Monday’s by-election victory that subject is likely to recede.
If the UNC had lost this by-election in Barataria, there would have been rumblings in the party. But defeat did not happen. The Belmont East by-election result was expected. The PNM internal elections are in September. That will be the next attraction.
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