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Campaign more fluff than real substance
The survey polls and the several observations on the possible outcome of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections vary widely. One survey gives the incumbent People’s National Movement (PNM) a landslide victory, 11 seats to one. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) ally, Ashworth Jack, are publicly confident.
The word on the Tobago Platform for Truth (TPT) is that the Hochoy Charles-led party is nothing more than a spoiler to grab crucial votes from either the PNM or the TOP. The truth is that the electorate will have its say, the only one that matters, come Monday next. The campaign has thrown up, as has become usual in political campaigning here, many accusations and counter-accusations with little if any substantiating evidence on either side.
Political advertising aimed at emotional manipulation fills the media. The election camps have provided little by way of reasoned argument. The watching electorate got instead the spectacle of the racially-charged soundbite from the PNM’s Mr Hilton Sandy on the ship waiting to sail from Calcutta in Trinidad to take over Tobago if the TOP were to win.
Meanwhile, no substantial answer has been forthcoming from Mr Jack on the acquisition of funds to construct his home and whether or not he has filed his assets, as required by law, with the Integrity Commission. The very commendable effort to bring the leaders together before a television audience had its value and could return rewards in the future.
However, little new was heard in the debate either. Moreover, the format of the debate allowed insufficient room for the pursuit of details on critical issues to do with the development of Tobago. Chief Secretary Orville London was not made to account for his long stewardship, cushioned by billions of dollars, in any significant and satisfactory manner.
Neither did the audience hear, beyond broad generalised statements of intent, how Mr Jack and the TOP will transform the economy to make it more resilient and less dependent on releases from Port-of-Spain. As for the central Government, it could not have chosen a more inappropriate time to bring legislation to fundamentally transform the constitutional relationship between the islands than days before the election.
With no possibility of having the legislation passed before the election, the only sensible conclusion that can be drawn about the intent of the Government in bringing the bill at this time, it is to seek to win cheap votes by making as if Tobago is being given the internal self-government it requires.
One very important element of campaigning that has not been addressed by the authorities and the electorate is the issue of who are the individuals and institutions which are funding the very expensive campaigns of the parties? And what are the investors seeking to gain in return for their expenditure?
But a fully-functioning participatory democracy is not achieved overnight. That the election will be held and that people will have their say in a free exercise are steps toward the ultimate objective.
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