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THA must forge new ties with gov’t
The rout of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) in Monday’s elections for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) settles many questions.
There is no doubt now where the sentiments of the people of Tobago lie. The rejection of Ashworth Jack, ousted from the Mason Hall/Providence/Moriah constituency seat he’d held for 16 years, was as much an endorsement of the PNM governance and campaign management as it was an electoral condemnation of the TOP and the very present People’s Partnership Government.
The TOP will have to rethink its role as it seeks to find relevance in a PNM-dominated Assembly. The PNM—which, while it dominated the THA, is still the parliamentary opposition, and holds neither Tobago seat—should not be tempted to see this landslide win as a referendum on the ruling party.
Tobago has always tended to go its own wilful way in elections and that tendency has become more entrenched since the THA was re-established in 1980. The PNM has now successfully defended its leadership of the THA through four successive elections and brought a seasoned understanding of the people of the Tobago to bear on a campaign that was waged as vigorously in the media as it was on the streets of the island.
Campaigning began in June, 2012, but over the last two months things began to heat up—and even to boil over at several key points, with both parties willing to exploit any gaffe to score points with the Tobago electorate.
Key to this election were issues such as the “Calcutta Ship” controversy, the “notes” issue, which accused TOP political leader Ashworth Jack of cheating in the televised debate, and the continued presence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the last weeks of the campaign.
Of the three, it now seems that the Prime Minister’s well-meant presence in Tobago brought the authority of Mr Jack into question with Tobago voters. The more experienced PNM put Chief Secretary Orville London firmly in the driver’s seat of his campaign, with Opposition Leader Keith Rowley portrayed as riding shotgun. Now, the THA must forge a new relationship with the central Government after this bitterly contested election.
Mr London has been provocative on the campaign trail, suggesting that the Government has been slow to release funds for Tobago’s governance and condemning the admittedly untimely attempt to introduce the Constitution Amendment (Tobago) Bill, 2013, which addresses outstanding issues of self-governance on the island.
But he must now address critical matters which have been given short shrift by emotional electioneering. Tobago has much to do to restore its attractiveness for tourism, the land licence regime of 2007 has stalled potential external investors, and the island is still stifled by a lack of job opportunities and a heavy reliance on imported food.
Dealing with these issues will require a strategic partnership with the central Government and Mr London, who has asked the Prime Minister to set aside the differences of the campaign trail, must demonstrate his own commitment to that laudable goal, and avoid the temptation of resting on the victor’s laurels.
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