Tobago holds elections today for control of the island’s Assembly that is responsible for internal self governance. Guyanese living in Tobago, and there are quite a few, are keenly watching the election and some are even voting although they wish to be quiet on who they will support.
As in any election in any country, any party that wins a majority of seats in Tobago controls the legislature and the administration of the island to dispense services and give patronage. Several opinion polls by different pollsters, including this writer, give conflicting findings.
There are twelve seats up for grabs. A party needs to control seven seats in order to form the administration which comprises a Chief Secretary and several Assistant Secretaries in various aspects of political, social and economic life. The incumbent PNM has controlled the island for the last 12 years and prior to that from 1980, the DAC and NAR led by former Prime Minister ANR Robinson and his successor Hochoy Charles.
The NACTA poll conducted by me through Thursday showed the incumbent PNM ahead by a slim margin while another poll by another North American institute predicts a landslide 11-1 victory for the PNM over the opposition TOP led by Ashworth Jack who is in an uphill struggle to retain his seat, trailing by some 15%. The NACTA poll has Jack slightly ahead. Since Friday, NACTA shows the TOP gaining ground making the election very competitive.
A TOP victory is not impossible but it will be difficult given peoples’ distrust of Jack as leader. Nevertheless, people are voting for party and not the leader and many want change.
The NACTA poll shows the PNM in a commanding position on the western side of the island. The TOP is doing very well on the eastern side of the island. And then there are some seats that are very close that can swing either way like Charlotteville/Speyside, Roxboro/ Delaford, and Bethel/Mt Irving.
All the seats are hotly contested.
A third party, Platform for Truth, led by Mr Charles, is not resonating very well and is not making a showing; it does not appear they are getting enough votes to win a seat or even save a deposit (minimum 12% requirement).
People feel Charles had his time and they don’t want to return to him and that is why he is not getting huge support.
Tobagonians are hungry for change but they say Ashworth Jack of the TOP is too close to the ruling UNC in Trinidad. The fear factor of Trinidad and Jack’s closeness with UNC is being exploited but TOP is pulling crowds and there are a lot of Guyanese on the island who favour TOP.
Race has also entered into the realm of the campaign. One candidate has been roundly condemned for his remarks by everyone, including Dr Keith Rowley, Tobago Leader Orville
London and other colleagues. However, the remarks are not hurting the candidate, Hilton Sandy, as he is in a tight race for re-election and in fact they could help him.
Two other pollsters conducted polls in Tobago separately commissioned by the PNM and the PP administration in Trinidad. The PNM commissioned polls show them ahead while the TOP/PP commissioned polls show them ahead. Objectively speaking, it is a very close contest.