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.
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.