This is in reference to your editorial ‘Trinidad warming up to elections’ (SN, Dec 10) wherein it is incorrectly stated “elections are due latest May 2015.” There is a mistaken belief by the public and commentators that elections must be held within five years of the last general election (May 24, 2010). That is not the case. The parliament has a lifespan of five years from the date it first met after an election. The parliament first met on June 18, 2010 and will stand dissolved on June 17, 2015, if not earlier at the instruction of the Prime Minister. Elections, therefore, must be held before September 17 and not before May.
Nevertheless, you are right that the two dominant parties or forces (opposition Peoples National Movement and ruling Peoples Partnership) are gearing up for the elections with both sides confident of victory. The PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley is demanding elections now. The Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said elections will be held when they are constitutionally due (unlikely before May). The PNM is preparing for an early election and has already selected candidates for 17 of the 41 constituencies.
No side is assured of a victory as opinion polls don’t put either one way ahead of the other. Polls, including those conducted by this writer for NACTA, show a horse race going down to the wire.
The PP has been portraying the election as a contest between Kamla and Rowley on who will be a better leader for the country. Polls consistently have shown Kamla ahead of Rowley in approval ratings and likeability but the election seems very close in terms of seats. Of the 41 seats in parliament, the PP won 29 to the PNM’s 12 seats in the last election. Since then, the PP lost two by elections and one MP (for D’Abadie) resigned last July for which no by election was held; the PP was expected to also lose it but a by election is not required by the constitution. In the next election, NACTA is projecting a comfortable PNM victory in D’Abadie.
In terms of approval ratings, a NACTA tracking poll last May had Kamla ahead of Rowley by 3%. A subsequent poll by Nigel Henry of Solution by Simulation (SBS) had Kamla ahead by 4%. A NACTA poll in July had Kamla ahead of Rowley by 5%; a subsequent SBS poll had Kamla ahead by 2%. A NACTA poll in October had Kamla ahead by 6%. A SBS poll in November had Kamla and Rowley a dead heat in approval rating in the 40s. A NACTA over the last couple of weeks had Kamla ahead in approval and likeability ratings.
In terms of seats, the latest SBS poll had the two parties at a dead heat in closely contested marginal seats and safe seats. NACTA had the PNM ahead in more marginal seats and overall for control of the parliament. As an example, SBS had the two parties tied in the San Fernando West and St Joseph seats. NACTA had the PNM way ahead in San Fernando West and the PP ahead in St Joseph.
Like the SBS poll, NACTA’s poll of last week and from July and October show closely contested marginal seats where neither party has secured 50% support to guarantee the seats. Jack Warner’s ILP has cut into the support of both parties but it is polling just a fraction of the 20% it received in the 2013 local elections. A run-off ballot may be required if a bill before parliament is approved requiring that all seats be won by at least 50% of the votes in the first round or else there will be a run-off between the top two (or three) finishers. Both polls show the PP having the edge in run offs. Thus, the PP is expected to approve the bill. The PNM is against the bill.
Like the SBS poll, NACTA found that voters are not pleased with the representation of the sitting MPs except in a few constituencies. In the NACTA poll, the PNM was praised for its choice of candidates who voters say are more “attractive, vibrant, refreshing and dynamic” than several of the current PP Members of Parliament, many of whose performances are found to be wanting. If the PP were to come up with a similar dream team of candidates like the PNM, it could very well edge out the PNM in several closely contested seats.
Also, a large percentage of voters nationally are undecided expressing disenchantment with both major parties. They prefer a third force that could give the two major parties a run for their money. Whichever party forms an alliance with a third force, if it materializes, could end up winning the elections.
In terms of preference for Prime Minister, more voters say they prefer Kamla over Rowley.
And yes, crime is the leading issue facing the country according to the NACTA poll.
The economic situation could also have an impact on the elections. The oil price has been reeling with the budget based on US$80 a barrel and oil slipping to near $60 a barrel. The Finance Minister has ordered cuts of almost US$1 billion spread across equally among all the ministries. This will affect election-related programs and will hurt the PP.
The face-off between former Prime Minister and PNM leader Patrick Manning and current leader Rowley has served as a distraction in the readiness of the PNM for an election. Manning, who suffered a stroke three years ago, is thinking of contesting again having served 43 years in parliament, unless he gets to recommend his own replacement. Rowley wants to name his own replacement candidate.
Elections are still many months away and opinion could change by then. The election could go either way depending on candidates, grass roots mobilization, and recovery of the energy price. NACTA is conducting monthly independent tracking polls.