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Trinidad and Tobago: Election results

After a five-week campaign period — which left some bloggers frustrated and angry, and provoked others to parody and satire — voters in Trinidad and Tobago went to the polls yesterday to elect the 41 members of the House of Representatives. (The party with a majority in the House forms the government.) In the weeks leading up to election day, the major opinion polls couldn't agree on the likely result, with some suggesting a small lead for the ruling People's National Movement (PNM), and others showing the PNM running neck-and-neck with the opposition United National Congress (UNC) and a new third party, the Congress of the People (COP). Campaign spending hit a new high, achieving what blogger Andre Bagoo described as “complete market saturation”:

And come Monday, after the millions are spent, millions which could have gone toward a day-care programme to help children with special needs, like my nephew, we will have another politician in office, with another song to sing.

Election results in Trinidad and Tobago generally come down to a small number of marginal seats where neither the PNM nor the UNC has a clear majority, and in the country's first-past-the-post electoral system third parties have often managed to win a significant number of votes without capturing any seats. As election day dawned, political analysts and ordinary citizens alike waited anxiously to see whether the COP would break this trend, and whether the party would “split the vote” in the marginal. “Remember, you get the government you deserve,” warned Club Soda and Salt, a Trinidadian living abroad.

Many bloggers posted photos of their index fingers stained with red electoral ink, proof of their having voted (and proof against multiple voting). “The day I voted for the first time,” Haveworld captioned his photo. “I voted. Did you?” asked The Manicou Report. “I've done my part,” said Lifespan of a Chennette. “My part in this first stage anyway.” Georgia Popplewell of Caribbean Free Radio gave an account of her trip to the polling station, and shared her memories of the historic 1986 election: “the first and only time I ever felt deeply involved in an election campaign, not to mention hopeful about the outcome.”

Meanwhile, IZATRINI.com posted the results of a (pretty unscientific) Facebook election poll. 1,884 Facebook members voted, with a clear majority opting for the COP. “This certainly says something about Trinidad and Tobago's youth,” IZATRINI remarked.

But once the polls closed at 6 p.m. and the first results began trickling in from the polling divisions, a very different scenario emerged. “It looks bad,” wrote Further Thoughts, a Trinidadian blogger living in the United States, who liveblogged the election night coverage via Internet radio. “It seems to be PNM or UNC first, COP second. But it’s consistently behind, and well behind.” Later Further Thoughts reported the result: a PNM victory. “Three-party elections don’t work in a two-party system.”

The final tally: 26 seats for the PNM, 15 for the UNC, and none for the COP, despite the latter party winning about 25% of the popular vote, a bigger chunk than the UNC, according to preliminary figures. “The inadequacy of the first-past-the-post system is just glaring,” commented Further Thoughts.

The second largest group of voters have no representation. Yes, we get to cast our votes. Yes, elections are mostly free and fair. No, this isn’t democracy.

He tried to rationalise the COP's situation:

There’s a real constituency of people who want something different. They are a third party, waiting in the wings, waiting to happen. A third force in a two-party state, coming together once every few decades, then fading back, sitting uncomfortably in one party or the other.

KnowProSE.com, who lives in Prime Minister Patrick Manning's constituency, was rudely woken at 3 a.m. by noisy celebrations:

This level of noise at this hour — which is actually against the Law unless there is a variance — certainly does not make me feel happy that the PNM won…. The grasshoppers are dancing outside. I wonder how the ants who have to go to work in a few hours feel?

The morning after the election, some bloggers tried to figure out what the PNM victory would mean for the nation. Jumbie's Watch was pessimistic:

The “creeping dicatorship” will now become a galloping executive presidency…. I foresee a situation somewhat like Pakistan.

“I've got a lot to say about this,” fumed Mindsight (warning: he uses strong language):

We've got 5 more years of the PNM, and for better or worse they are my government. They are going to be the key to true change over this period, and it's up to the voters (as they're the only ones who in my opinion care) to hold them to the promise of change.

Further Thoughts tried to understand the UNC's campaign strategy — the party had gone into the elections with two co-leaders and no clear indication of who would have become prime minister, had they won a majority of seats. Was it part of a plan by former prime minister Basdeo Panday to make his daughter (newly elected as an MP) party leader?

Georgia Popplewell, meanwhile, was puzzled by Patrick Manning's decision — announced in his vistory speech — to be sworn back into prime ministerial office at an unconventional location. KnowProSE.com wondered why more Trinidadian bloggers weren't commenting on the results. And The Secret Blog of Patrick Manning, a parody blog launched a few weeks before the official start of the election campaign, announced it had reached “the end”:

Seems I’ve achieved what I set out to do here. Or perhaps I’ve failed miserably. It was fun while it lasted.

16 comments

  • Victor Dupres

    The middle/upperclass and others who supported the COP need to realize that they can best change the direction and determination of priorities of the PNM from within the party. Complaining from outside wont do it.

  • Thank you for not mentioning me at all. Seems the PNM propaganda has gotten to the site.

  • When I left Trinidad 8 months ago, I didn’t know of a single person who supported Manning or anyone or anything related to him. How is it possible then that PNM won so soundly? Is it possible that I only knew the very few people who hated him?

    I’m so baffled by the outcome of this election. And very, very disheartened.

  • Sorrel Blue

    A party like the COP, that achieved more than 20% of the popular vote, clearly has sound support in our beautiful twin-island country. If the constitution were to be altered at all, it should be to revise that sort of glitch in a society that claims to be democratic. Sadly, any talk about constitutional reform comes from a clear agenda of the ruling party and its leader to get more power.

    It is sad that Patrick Manning was, once again, left off the hook. No hospital in Tobago, and he builds himself a palace in Port of Spain (only ONE example.) Ironic that a wider alliance UNC/COP WOULD have certainly beaten his party, as both of them earned almost 100,000 more popular votes, combined, than the PNM. A clear indication that the PNM didn’t really “win” by majority, but out of a split-vote. And, in spite of the “win”, they couldn’t even get a total majority of seats.

    What ultimately perspires of these election results is that there are, indeed, a LARGE number of citizens who want change. One can only hope 1212 will finally bring it, for the sake of democracy and real justice. And for this we will have to stop thinking “race” and start thinking “reason.” Only THEN will we be the envy of the world….

  • Sorrel Blue

    Forgive me for a typo on my last comment: on the last paragraph, the line that reads “there are, indeed, a large number…” should read “there IS, indeed, a large number…”

    :-)

  • Two interesting analyses that were posted too late to make it into this piece:

    Trinidad Media Arts & Culture suggests that the UNC/COP “split” reflects a caste/class divide among Trinidadian Hindus:

    http://trinidadmediaartsculture.blogspot.com/2007/11/rip-cop-welcome-to-trinimad-after-pnm.html

    And Jeremy Taylor argues that we’ve reverted to the political situation of the early 1980s:

    http://jeremy-taylor.blogspot.com/2007/11/back-to-square-one.html

  • Hi – sorry off topic but just found your site and appreciate the in depth articles and posts on places that aren’t always on the U.S. news radar.

    I’ve always followed Argentina and South America politics, and it’s great to read local bits and pieces from around the world…

    All the best – James…

  • Funny how all the analysis seems to go back to dividing the nation… The truth is that there is a socioeconomic divide rather than a racial one, and stressing that socioeconomic divide as opposed to race or religion will serve to better move the country forward.

    The PNM focused on the poor – nevermind that many (including myself) believe that they keep the lower income folks. The UNC attempts to do the same and has been failing for quite some time, blissfully continuing along and repeating the errors which make it such a weak party despite such vocal support.

    To make that point colloquially, the nutsman is heard by all – but the nutsman is always the minority.

    Enter the COP, which gave the disenfranchised a party to vote for. The UNC is blaming the COP for losing the election, and the PNM would have done the same thing.

    The COP is too young, and (heaven forbid I agree with Robin Montano) failed because it targeted the middle-class which is a de facto minority – largely *because* of both the PNM and the UNC.

    But none of that matters. 2007 elections are over. Move along.

    What is interesting is that the COP had a large amount of support on the internet (despite UNC showing, which is largely controlled by Nigel Mahabir) – the largest amount of support if I am correct – and when one considers that Trinidad and Tobago has about 12% internet penetration, the lowest in CARICOM (really)… something comes to light.

    It is hard to ignore that the technology usage and theoretical discussion of issues which happens outside of the media by those with access may be linked to COP support. There is no way to empirically measure this, but lets ask the question: If everyone in Trinidad and Tobago had internet access, would they have voted in the manner in which they did?

    The racial divides only exist because of the history, which dates past my own great-uncles (Simbhoonath and Rudranath) in the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). Back then the racial and cultural divides were more representative; today the only true divides are socioeconomic.

    And since we’re traipsing through history – remember how the DLP ended. Panday would do well to remember his own success in the 1976 elections… and why he won. He seems doomed to repeat the mistakes his past competitors made.

    Now – beyond all of this – the real question comes. When was the last time a true census was done in this country?

  • *update* I wrote:

    “The PNM focused on the poor – nevermind that many (including myself) believe that they keep the lower income folks.”

    When it should read:

    “The PNM focused on the poor – nevermind that many (including myself) believe that they keep the lower income folks at that level.”

  • I am particularly disheartened that the majority of the country continues to vote based on race and propaganda. I expected it, but hoped that sense would prevail. Sigh…

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