Senior Multimedia Journalist
While there is still no date for the Local Government Elections that is legally due this year, it’s clear that the local government campaigns by the two major political parties—the People’s National Movement, and the United National Congress—are well underway. The proverbial election bell has rung.
Last Thursday, PNM held a public meeting at San Fernando City Hall. While, on Monday night, the UNC held its public meeting at Naparima College, also in San Fernando.
On both platforms, the political leaders criticised each other fiercely, particularly on the topic of the privy council’s ruling that the Government could not extend the term of Local Government Elections by a year.
And, in the aftermath of the Privy Council’s ruling and with the coming election in mind, several well-known political scientists are sharing their perspectives on the core issues and dynamics at play heading into the election.
The political scientists said that while Local Government Elections are often predictably decided by party loyalists along racial lines, growing discontent with present-day politics and governance offers could offer a chance for unpredictable outcomes.
Professor Hamid Ghany
“The Local Government Elections may be regarded as a barometer of public opinion on Government’s performance if the turnout were to exceed 50 per cent which has never happened before.
“It is quite possible that many third parties outside of the PNM and the UNC may participate in the local government elections because of the use of proportional representation to calculate the allocation of the four aldermen in each corporation. In other words, no votes are wasted as all votes are counted in each corporation to allocate aldermen and it is possible for a party that did not win a seat on the first past the post system to win an alderman’s seat because they got 25 per cent of the votes cast throughout the corporation.”
Dr Shane Mohammed
“I think we are at a stage where the political parties don’t realise that society is fed up with the rhetoric, the nonsense, the lies, the back-and-forth, the adversarial behaviour. I mean our main leaders—Rowley and Persad-Bissessar—can’t even sit in the same room and have a decent conversation as did Panday and Manning in the past. What example are they setting? What they are setting is the stage for the rise of new leadership, which is what the country is in desperate need of. But we won’t see that until 2025.
“My eyes are on Diego Martin to see if the National Transformation Alliance will have an impact there. My eyes are on Sangre Grande. We’ve seen two resignations from two UNC councillors in Tunapuna/Piarco and Arima. I think that is going to hurt the UNC because the UNC continues to suffer from a level of weak leadership and a lot of rhetoric. People are not paying attention as much. They benefit from traditional voters. If people choose to vote (for UNC) in the local election, they may benefit from the simple fact that people would choose them as the alternative.
“People who have not walked electoral districts and constituencies since 2020 are now walking like it’s going out of style because they are in desperate need to hold on and it’s a race to capture and show who has the stronger hand. Yes, elections are a competition, but behind the competition, there is something else. There are people, lives, and livelihoods that are affected by that. We are in a situation and a conundrum where people are getting blinded by the grandeur of office, the prestige and the ranking thing. You see that nonsense, if those things continue to perpetuate, then people are going to continue to have apathy. Our society is suffering from great apathy, as well as, they are saying—people don’t like PNM. They don’t like the governance structure the PNM is using—their mechanisms.”
Dr Winford James
“The Government may be at a disadvantage here because they are presiding over the governance of the country which is plagued by problems such as crime, poor infrastructure where roads are concerned, and where the utilities are concerned like water and electricity. I myself don’t like to drive on uneven surfaces, and every time I leave home, I find myself driving along the Eastern Main Road which is a mess where driving with ease and comfort is concerned. People note these things and are wondering if the government couldn’t solve that problem in the eight years, then. The Government is in the driver’s seat and they have to run the country for the welfare of the citizenry, and a lot of citizens are less than impressed by what is happening in the country and how the Government is providing solutions.
“The new parties will always live in hope and they cannot join either of the two mainstream parties, but at the same time, they don’t have the appeal to the people who have voted for the two mainstream parties for a long time, and who have done so religiously. It doesn’t mean that it cannot happen, but it hasn’t happened noticeably in our political history.
“The Opposition always has to live in hope. It was 8-6 two elections ago, and then they won a seat and became even with the PNM in the last election. The question is whether you can consider that momentum or an accident of sorts, and whether they are going to win another corporation. Some people think San Fernando is up for grabs.”
Dr Bishnu Ragoonath
“The most important thing in a Local Government Elections is the overwhelming role of party politics because already you have a low voter turnout. You’re not expecting people who sit on the fence to come out and make a difference one way or the other. However, with new parties coming on the scene, what would be interesting to see in this election is—What support base those new parties would be able to muster as we move to the election. I don’t know how many of the parties will contest the election. For instance, if the PDP has said they are going to contest Port-of-Spain, San Juan/Barataria, and Diego Martin, if they manage to win just one seat, for example, then that would tell you of a level of disenchantment with the party that would have lost.
“If, for instance, a party is accustomed to getting let’s say 40 per cent of the vote in a Local Government Election and they get a smaller turnout, then that would be worrying for the party. If, however, the party continues to maintain the level of voting in a local government poll, then that doesn’t necessarily permit a legitimate barometer for a general election.”