In the last general election, GE 2015, 734,985 people or 66.86 per cent of an electorate of 1,099,279 cast their votes. The number of valid votes was 732,533 or 99.67 per cent and the voter turnout was 66.86 per cent. There were 132 nominated candidates, with 127 representing political parties and five participating as independent candidates; there was one withdrawal before election day, resulting in 131 candidates contesting the election. Seventeen parties participated. They contested for 41 constituencies or seats–39 in Trinidad and two in Tobago.
Under our single-winner or first-past-the-post system, the PNM won 23 of the seats–21 in Trinidad and two in Tobago–with a total of 378,729 or 51.8 per cent of the votes; the UNC won 17 seats–all in Trinidad–with a total of 290,074 or 39 per cent of the votes; and the COP one (St Augustine) with a total of 43,914 or 6 per cent of the votes. The other 14 parties and the five independents received a combined total of 19,104 or 2.6 per cent of the votes.
The PNM therefore won the elections while the UNC lost them. The PNM won in at least three ways: by winning a majority of the seats– 23; by winning the popular vote of 378,729 (not that this is legally relevant); and by winning by more than 50 per cent of the votes, ie, by an absolute majority (not that this is legally relevant either).
Since they had gifted the St Augustine seat to Prakash Ramadhar of the COP in a pre-election seat contesting arrangement, the UNC can be said to have won 18 rather than 17 seats.
Under our system of governance, the Rowley administration was entitled to, and so took, all the benefits of office while the UNC, with no such entitlement, floundered in opposition.
How did this state of affairs come about?
The facts from history, observation and analysis give us critical parts of the answer. European colonisation, but mostly the British variety, with its damnable features of soulless greed, exploitation, butchery, experimental mischief, brought our peoples to this land– first, Afros as slaves, then Indos as indentures–and put us to live together but in different places. The bulk of the Afros ended up in the north, northwest, northeast, and the oil belt in the South while the bulk of the Indos ended up in the Caroni plains, Naparima and the South generally.
They lived in sociocultural segregation from each other and practiced their religion and other social behaviours in different social spaces. And while over time, there have been acculturation and miscegenation, motivated mostly by economic need, the geographic boundaries have largely remained intact. And so the effects of modernisation and universal education have been mixed with those of religion and other forms of culture.
The bulk of the two major ethnic/racial groups still live in different places. As we move about the society, simple observation takes in the critical differences. And scholarly analysis of these differences is available at the universities, particularly The UWI. The science is there and I am presenting a very sparse summary indeed.
But the social science of electoral polling enlightens us as well, and, in this regard, the research of HHB & Associates provides valuable insight on the way we will vote in GE2020 and how we voted in elections past.
This year, it tells us that some 61 per cent of the Afro electors intend to vote for the African-based PNM as against 7 per cent of the Indo electors, and that 55 per cent of the Indo electors intending to vote for the Indo-based UNC as against 6 per cent of the Afro voters.
When you look at the ethnic character of the voters living in the safe seats of both major parties (eg, the Diego Martin seats, Oropouche, Siparia, Naparima), you cannot escape the conclusion that the bulk of the support is from Indos in 15 of those seats for the UNC and from Afros in 21 for the PNM (19 in Trinidad and two in Tobago).
(I consider a marginal to be a seat where the winner holds a majority of 10 per cent or less of the votes. Which would mean that, based on GE2015, there are five marginals: Barataria/San Juan (3.18 per cent), Chaguanas East (7.95), Moruga/Tableland (2.53), Pointe-a-Pierre (8.39), and St Joseph (8.33).
HHB’s poll shows that, overall, PNM’s ethnic numbers are boosted by a 44 per cent support from other races/ethnicities and the UNC’s by a 19 per cent support. The parties also depend on complementary support from the undecided, of whom there are 16 per cent. So that, a major party will win based on ethnic support boosted by support from other small ethnic groups and a significant slice of the undecided (or swing) vote.
But this is based on the figures for GE2015. If we go back to the figures for, eg, 1986 and 2010, we will see that when the UNC/ULF joins up with other opposition forces against the PNM the coalition wins.
But Persad-Bissessar broke up the People’s Partnership by the way she governed and resorted to a mostly ethnic opposition since then. That formula has never won, given the composition of seats along the Eastern Main Road.
The science suggests that the advantage lies with the PNM, except something dramatic–like unprecedented levels of disaffection with Rowley’s PNM along the EMR, in Tobago and in St Joseph and Moruga/Tableland–occurs.
What our race/ethnicity is, how the big racial/ethnic groups treat the small ones, how the swing voters interpret the issues, and how the Opposition units coalesce–this is how we vote.