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Friday, December 06, 2013
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Can PNM win Chaguanas Borough Corporation?
This article was written by Nigel Henry of Solution by Simulation, a private firm that uses computer modelling to provide insight into political contexts. Solution by Simulation accurately predicted the outcome of the Tobago House of Assembly election, published in our January 14 edition. Local government elections will take place on October 21.
Residents in the vicinity of the O’Meara Industrial Estate went to sleep on the night of September 6 living in Arima West/O’Meara, represented by PP councillor Flora Singh, and woke up the next morning in Malabar South, represented by PNM councillor Anthony Garcia. And most were none the wiser.
This was because Parliament had voted that afternoon to approve an Elections and Boundaries (EBC) report which recommended 39 boundary changes, nine name changes, and the addition of two local government electoral districts. Population distribution is always changing, and it is necessary for our political geography to be periodically updated to reflect those changes. It makes little sense for areas which have shown steady or negative population growth to continue to elect the same number of representatives as areas which have undergone explosive population growth. Changes in the electoral district lines, or redistricting, is an essential component of representative democracy.
In a country like ours that uses the first-past-the-post system, the minor details in the implementation of this process can have huge implications. This is more than an academic theoretical concern. In 1995, the PNM won more votes than the UNC but lost the election; and in turn, in 1999, the UNC won more votes but the PNM formed the government. In plain terms, where the lines are drawn can determine who wins or loses the election. Because of the power of boundary changes, in some territories where politicians govern the process of redistricting, such as most states in the United States, the redistricting fight is just as competitive as elections themselves.
There is a saying in US politics that every two years voters elect their representatives, but every ten years (following the decennial census) politicians choose their voters. In other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, boundaries are governed by independent commissions. Ours follows this model, hence the name Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).
The question of who determines the boundaries is just the first of many questions. Consensus on the rules and principles to be used in the process is perhaps even more important. Even after we agree on principles such as maintaining districts approximately equal in population, not dividing communities of interest, considering non-political cultural and administrative boundaries, and accounting for geographic features, these goals can be implemented in any number of ways, making redistricting just as much an art as a science.
In the context of local government, the legislation that governs the EBC in this process centres around the requirement for equitable representation within any municipal or regional corporation. No district within any corporation can be more than 25 per cent larger than the smallest district. Most of these population shifts can be remedied by slightly shifting the boundaries of a few districts. Ho
wever, when there are larger population shifts and the rules allow, the EBC has invariably opted to add more districts in the new densely-populated centres. There are other ways this could be achieved, such as to amalgamate and redraw the more rural districts, or to shift all the district lines in the opposite direction of the migration—similar to the way people sitting in a pew scoot over to their left or right if a new person is added to the pew. This is what happened in Preysal and in Princes Town.
However, unlike the regional corporations, the number of districts in the city and borough corporations are fixed by law. Therefore, the EBC employed the “scoot over” technique. Growth in Malabar caused part of Malabar South to move to Malabar North, part of Malabar North to Arima Central, and part of Arima Central to Arima North East. Similarly, in Chaguanas, part of Edinburgh/Longdenville was transferred to Enterprise South, part of Enterprise South to Enterprise North, and part of Enterprise North to Montrose.
What do these changes mean for the upcoming local government election? On the micro scale, some voters will find that their district has changed, and the councillor that they grew to know will not be on their ballot. On the macro scale, these changes will not affect the control of any corporation—with one exception.
The PNM could place at least second in the Chaguanas Borough Corporation, either winning more districts than the ILP or the UNC. This is because the boundary changes in that corporation worked out in their favour. Enterprise South has consistently supported the PNM, but Enterprise North less so. This year, the eastern part of Endeavour was transferred from Enterprise North to Cunupia which makes Enterprise North much more favourable to the PNM.
Similarly, the area bordering Longdenville and Enterprise was transferred to Enterprise South, pushing the marginal district of Edinburgh/Longdenville towards the PNM. Winning at least these three of the eight districts will be good enough for second place in the heartland of the UNC and the ILP. It would be interesting to see how the other five districts vote and if there is a distinction between the three that are in Chaguanas West, and the two that are not.
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