T&T local gov’t polls reaffirmed that in a three-way split the PNM will win

Dear Editor,

This is in reference to `PNM wins local govt elections; UNC holds on to base’ ( SN Oct 22).  It was no surprise that the PNM won eight corporations of the 14 with UNC five and one a tie. The NACTA poll had projected the PNM winning a minimum eight corps because of the division of the votes by the anti-PNM forces.  The combined vote of the anti-PNM forces was 56%. Historically, since 1956, in a divided electorate, PNM wins. In terms of votes, NACTA had the UNC at 32% and ILP at 24% popular support. The UNC ended at 33% and PNM a fraction less than 24%.

The PNM has recovered nicely since its resounding defeats in 2010.  The wins in Tobago last January which NACTA predicted and now the LGE have cemented Dr. Keith Rowley’s leadership of the PNM.

It was generally believed that the newly formed ILP of the charismatic Jack Warner would do relatively well winning a lot of votes but hardly seats except in one corporation. The NACTA poll showed ILP winning Chaguanas in popular votes but also noted that the PNM would win a minimum two seats and that the UNC was closing the gap with the ILP for seats. As it turned out, the UNC won three seats, PNM three seats and ILP two seats.  After the addition of aldermen, the three parties are tied at four seats each creating a hung corporation.  And none of the parties want to work with each other.

There is no single specific reason that can explain the ILP’s failure to win seats. The ILP overextended its reach; its support was strongest in a few marginal selected areas. It spread its resources too thinly and did not place much emphasis on its stronghold. This resulted in its supporters feeling abandoned especially in parts of Chaguanas.  The ILP went with ineffective political ammunition into PNM garrison constituencies expecting to penetrate the PNM fortresses.  It underestimated the PNM’s strength. The PNM is a united, strong party with dedicated loyalists. The party expanded too fast but lacked depth in any one corporation. ILP should have focused on a few corporations where it had a better chance of winning or making inroads like Chaguanas, Tunapuna, Sangre Grande.

Turnout was very low, an abysmal 27% as contrasted with almost 40% three years ago. Midterm elections don’t attract a lot of voters and people generally tend to vote against the incumbent resulting in the loss of five corporations by the UNC partnership. Voter apathy was widespread. People were disillusioned with the government for its failure to implement some of its promises.  The several faux pas and slip ups hurt the UNC among voters including in its stronghold. It should be noted that the UNC suffered losses including in its Indian heartland but it held on to enough seats to retain traditional corporations.

The biggest loser in the election was the COP which was founded by Winston Dookeran, the former Central Bank Governor and Finance Minister, now Foreign Minister. The NACTA poll revealed it would not win a single seat of 54 it was contesting except in seats where UNC candidates contested under the COP name. That was the actual outcome signaling that the COP is dead or is a corpse as Basdeo Panday described it.

The election certifies the hypothesis that in a three-way split, PNM will win elections.

The ILP has now replaced the COP as the third party. But the UNC says it wants nothing to do with the ILP. The ILP cannot be ignored because it won significant support and it has shown that it can prevent the UNC from winning seats in a three way split. The UNC will have to find an accommodation with ILP or else its electoral prospects in 2015 will be very dim. Coalition and alliance politics is the norm in more and more polities. Even England has a coalition government. So does India. The UNC should not dismiss the ILP completely. Politicians should not be overwhelmingly obsessed with form. The substance, how one governs, is more important than form.


Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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