After a heated Tobago House of Assembly campaign, Tobagonians go to the polls today to select the politicians who will control the THA for the next four years.Several polls have predicted a PNM victory although the Tobago Organisation of the People, backed by the PP Government is also confident of an upset victory.Also in the tight three-way fight is former chief secretary Hochoy Charles' new Tobago Platform for Truth party.
Voting for the 12 THA seats begins at 6 am and ends at 6 pm.PNM chairman Franklin Khan said yesterday the PNM needed the victory to "refresh" its confidence.And UNC deputy leader Suruj Rambachan said the Government was anxiously awaiting the outcome.Both parties are confident of victory in today's THA election, after three hectic weeks of campaigning which saw Tobago flooded with activity–including the red colour of the PNM and the TOP's yellow in the last days of the campaign.
Both sides wound up with rallies yesterday through the length and breadth of the island.
The PNM is vying to continue extending it's THA reign to 16 years, having already completed 12 years at the helm. During that period, the THA has used an allocation of $17 billion according to Parliament reports, which have been confirmed by the THA's Information Unit. PNM lost several seats to the TOP in the 2009 THA election–with a tight finish in some seats–and now has eight.
The TOP has held four THA seats since 2009 and requires at least three more to win THA control.PNM, TOP and TPT are fielding full slates of 12 candidates.The big issue in the campaign has been the push by the TOP and Government to give Tobago internal self-government after efforts towards this were initiated since 1977 by Tobago-born Arthur NR Robinson, a former prime minister and president.
Before debate of the bill in Parliament last week, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and TOP leader Ashworth Jack visited Robinson at his Federation Park home and presented him with a copy of the bill.The Government's bill provides for various aspects of self-government ranging from allowing the THA to make its own laws to increasing its monetary position via budgetary allocation and borrowings.
The bill was formulated over a prolonged period of consultation and review, including recommendations from the Tobago public and the PNM-controlled THA.The provisions for self-government for Tobago have, however, been rejected by the PNM.During the campaign, allegations have been flung at both THA chief secretary Orville London and TOP leader Ashworth Jack who are eyeing the post of THA chief secretary.
The early controversy involved the Milshirv Project in which the THA bought land and sold it to a developer with PNM connections who planned to construct a building and rent it back to the THA. The Prime Minister claims the project was undertaken "by a PNM family."
Also figuring recently was an issue concerning a THA deal gone sour which involved a group of UK investors who are now seeking compensation after their plan for an eco-resort at the Culloden Estate fell through.
Also discussed at length was Jack's private home which the PNM claims was financed and built by a Trinidad firm who also did work on the PM's private residence at Phillipine. The PNM's team is headed by London and involves a mix of largely young new faces, though officials such as outgoing THA finance secretary Anselm London and Denise Angus aren't facing the polls.
TOP's team headed by Jack includes several candidates who stood before at the polls and a number of professionals from the business and education fields. TPT's includes Andre Phillips and David Fraser.The campaign has also been marked by heavy advertising which includes live coverage on television of public meetings.
The build-up to the election also featured a debate between the leaders of the parties contesting the election by the Debates Commission which was a historic event which wasn't without controversy.The Tobago electorate comprises 46,601 voters according to the Elections and Boundaries Commission, up from the 2009 figure of 42,623.
An EBC official said there are 97 polling stations. She could not say exactly how much polling day staff was recruited. She, however, gave the assurance that everything is in place.The EBC is supervising the poll from its office in Scarborough.Anticipating victory celebrations, PNMites will gather at their Bacolet Street office tonight while the TOP supporters will congregate at its office which is nearby.
The THA's new chief secretary will be sworn in Thursday. If there's a 6-6 tie, Tobagonians may have to go to the polls again, experts say.