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With hours of campaigning still left, the 2013 THA election has already gone down as the most contested, expensive and divisive in the history of the island, which had a representative body named the Tobago House of Assembly between 1768 and 1874. While the 2013 campaign generated a great deal of heat, there was precious little light emanating from any of the three parties seeking to win the favour of the Tobago electorate.
This lack of enlightenment is especially surprising given that the election is being held in the middle of an ongoing debate in Parliament on legislation that would amend T&T’s republican Constitution to advance the ability of Tobagonians to chart their own future. The decision by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to table the legislation in Parliament just weeks before the election has been roundly criticised by two of the three parties contesting the election.
And with some justification, as the key points of the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago) Bill, 2013 are not sufficiently well known in Tobago for Monday’s vote to be indicative of the electorate’s feelings of this hugely significant legislation. Such important change deserved greater ventilation in this election.
As it stands, not many of the contributions by speakers on the campaign trail focused on the important medium to long-term issues specific to Tobago, such as: the need to resuscitate the island’s attractiveness to foreign tourists; whether the land licence regime that was introduced in 2007 to slow down the acquisition by foreigners of Tobago land should be scrapped or amended; the imperative of diversifying the island’s sources of employment and the need to increase the production of food so that Tobago is more self-sufficient.
Unfortunately, much of the campaign rhetoric was taken up with claims of bribes to voters, the hiring of Muslimeen thugs to intimidate voters, continuing slander of nominees on platforms, media campaigns that also only attack parties and candidates and the disturbing but largely irrelevant introduction of another ethnic element in an island in which 98 per cent of the population comprises people of one ethnicity.
Although the Tobago Organisation of the People is the opposition party in Tobago, it is a constituent member of the ruling People’s Partnership, which has caused the Prime Minister to put the weight of her office at stake for the election.
Ms Persad-Bissessar has gone out of her way to address Tobago directly, holding cabinet meetings there, opening a service station in Roxborough and a gas facility at the Cove earlier this week before flying back to Tobago yesterday for the launch of the University of T&T’s Scarborough campus and a PTSC trade school.
While both sides pumped huge amounts of money into campaigning for Monday’s poll, it may be that the interest the Prime Minister has demonstrated in the TOP is because she feels a loss in Tobago could be perceived as an indictment against T&T’s ruling coalition in general and her stewardship in particular.
Whichever of the two main contenders wins, the THA and central Government will have to co-ordinate their efforts and strategies to ensure that Tobago continues to see an improvement in its standard of living.