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TOP can only win alone
As the clock winds down for the hotly contested Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, political analyst Dr Winford James feels if the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) were an independent party they would win tomorrow’s polls. James made his comments based on his observations of the election campaign and controversial debate between the three political leaders contesting the January 21 polls.
The three men who are vying for the post of chief secretary in the THA are Tobago’s leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM) Orville London, Hochoy Charles, head of The Platform for Truth (TPT), and Ashworth Jack, who leads TOP.
TOP is one of five parties in the coalition People’s Partnership Government. Twelve seats are up for grabs.
Currently out of the country on business, James, when asked on Wednesday in an e-mail if the TOP had remained focused on Tobago and not become closely tied with the PP whether they would win the THA election, responded: “Yes, definitely they would have won.”
James: Jack a puppet
James said, “Jack’s ties with the PP have been affecting his charges negatively. The perception is that he (Jack) is a puppet who will let UNC run Tobago. The PP damage is irreversible,” he explained. James said the outcome of this election will be used as a gauge in the upcoming Local Government Election and 2015 general election. If the PNM wins the election, Tobago will become a PNM stronghold, James warned.
Pollster Vishnu Bisram, director of the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (Nacta) also gave his views, saying if TOP does not win the election or make gains in seats, pressure will be on Jack to step down as leader. Bisram said Jack was facing stiff competition from PNM’s candidate for Providence/Mason Hall Sheldon Cunningham, his main rival.
For Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Bisram said, a victory is crucial to stem the tide of her declining approval rating and support for the PP.
Bisram: if TOP loses, it’s the beginning of the end for PP
“If TOP does not do well, it could mark the beginning of the end for the PP as it could start a trend for the local government elections in July.” Bisram said a recent Nacta poll does not augur well for the PP either in Trinidad (especially in the East/West corridor) or the Tobago East and West seats.
“The PP could lose several seats in July’s election. A victory in Tobago for TOP will help to stem the tide against the PP in Trinidad and stop the political haemorrhaging within its base and the partnership. That is why Kamla has been visiting the island regularly, holding Cabinet meetings and campaigning hard.”
Bisram said while Persad-Bissessar has been an asset to the TOP and boosting morale among supporters, PNM and TPT supporters strongly oppose her presence in Tobago. With a voting population of 46,000, James predicted that the voter turnout will be higher when compared to the 2009 election, given the stakes and based on the introduction of the Constitution reform issue. However, James viewed Charles as “living in the past.”
Leaders with credibility problems
Of the three leaders, James explained that they all have credibility problems. London, who held the post of chief secretary in the THA for 12 years, had little to show of Tobago’s development. The perception of London, James said, is that “he has been favouring friends and family and victimising non-supporters.” A poll from Solution by Simulation recently suggested the incumbent PNM would score a landslide 11 to one victory.
James said providing the poll was properly done, it showed that people are taking the PNM’s position seriously due to the reckless actions of the PP Government.
Asked if the Section 34 matter, the failure of Jack to declare his assets to the Integrity Commission and the construction of his new home, the cutting of Tobago’s social programmes, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin’s shopping card fiasco, were some of the issues that caused TOP to lose ground in the last few months, James said while these issues raised concern, the cutting of social programmes was without a doubt the biggest issue Tobagonians were not in favour with.
“Who cut the programmes? The PNM is in charge, not the TOP.” James said the three leaders needed to come up with a socio-economic plan that would transform the island and make it self dependent. “They need to push for a democratic federal structure. Expand the economy.”
‘Sometimes polls miss the mark’
On Monday, in her response to opinion polls, Persad-Bissessar insisted that TOP needed to do a lot more work. James said at this point nothing more can be done and it showed that Persad-Bissessar was worried. “But I don’t think she is declaring defeat. Sometimes polls miss the mark.” With hours away from voters going to the poll, Bisram said it was a keenly watched election with a lot at stake for the national leaders of the PNM and PP.
As for Charles, Bisram said he had reached the end of his political line and will not defeat his opponent, while “Jack is not ready for the job.” Win or lose, Bisram predicted, this was likely to be London’s last contest in electoral politics. “He will want to go out on a high by taking his team to another victory.” For PNM’s leader Dr Keith Rowley, Bisram said, the stakes could not be any higher.
“If PNM wins, it will cement his (Rowley) hold on the leadership of the PNM to lead the party or form some opposition alliance into the 2015 general election.” And if PNM loses control of Tobago, the pressure will be on Rowley to make way for a different leader who can win cross-over voters to give the Opposition a better chance in the 2015 general election.
Bisram said there was still a large percentage of undecided voters with several seats too close to call and too close for comfort. “Respondents are divided by party loyalty. This is the main reason why the election is closely contested,” Bisram said. Almost every Tobagonian when polled had supported greater autonomy for Tobago and additional revenues for the THA, Bisram said.
However, when asked if they would support the bill proposed by the PM that will give Tobago greater control over its own affairs, only 40 per cent (mostly TOP supporters and some independents) agreed, with no PNMites showing support for the bill.
Tobago bill a political gimmick
The bill was described as election gimmick while TOP supporters felt it was a positive development for the island. Bisram feels the outcome will depend on election-day machinery. According to Bisram, whichever party has a better machinery and can bring out their voters, will rule the day. Of the three aspiring chief secretaries, Bisram revealed that London commands greater respect among voters and is seen as an articulate and effective speaker.
“He is the choice of more respondents on who they would prefer as chief secretary.” Opponents describe the bill as an election gimmick and felt it was being rushed through Parliament, while TOP supporters saw it as a positive development for the island.
Dumas: It’s too much bacchanal
Former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas said he was disappointed with the election campaign, stating it was based on peripheral matters and not “on matters dealing with the socio-economic development of Tobago.” Dumas described the campaign as “too much bacchanal.” He was unsure who conducted the recent polls that put the PNM in the lead.
If the poll was conducted by either the PNM, TPT or TOP, Dumas said, this would cast out all integrity of the results. “You must have an impartial body.”
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