On 9 April, 2010, Prime Minister Patrick Manning surprised many citizens of Trinidad and Tobago by requesting the dissolution of Parliament and triggering a snap general election, barely halfway through his government's current term in office. (Under the country's Westminster-based constitutional system, each Parliament has a maximum term of five years, but the prime minister may call elections at any time.)
Manning's party, the People's National Movement (PNM), won a comfortable majority in the previous general election in 2007, after the opposition vote was split between the United National Congress (UNC) and the Congress of the People (COP). But in the past two years, the Manning administration faced growing public anger about its spending on mega-construction projects, alleged corruption by senior state officials, a rising crime rate, the government's apparent deafness to public opinion, and the prime minister's own reputation for arrogance.
With pressure from the media, the Opposition, and the general public mounting earlier this year, Manning's announcement of the early election was seen by some as an attempt to win a fresh mandate for the PNM government, and by others as a play to head off a motion of no confidence in Parliament. Manning may have been counting on another split in opposition votes. But the main opposition party, the UNC, under its newly elected political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, instead negotiated with the COP and other parties to form the People's Partnership coalition. On election day, 24 May, when the votes were counted, the People's Partnership won a total of 29 seats in the 41-member House of Representatives, with the PNM reduced to 12 seats. Trinidad and Tobago found itself with a new government.
During the campaign and on election night, as vote tallies were announced, some of the most outspoken commentary on the two political parties appeared semi-publicly on Facebook, with bloggers and tweeters also sharing their opinions. For some, the big story was the election of the country's first female prime minister. “Woman is boss in Trinidad & Tobago” wrote Islandista, quoting a popular 1988 calypso. Mauvais Langue posted a link to Persad-Bissessar's victory speech, commenting: “We ask for Change and we got Change!”
Others were more cautious, looking ahead to the challenges facing the new government and the nation, or trying to analyse the new political landscape. On Twitter, Kevon Foderingham (@kevon82) wondered, “Is it just me or did Manning want to lose the election? Something is fishy with the PNM.” Blogging from Barbados, Trinidadian writer and journalist B.C. Pires wrote:
You have to be glad, this morning, that the people bootsed out Mr Manning last night. If, over the last two years, Mr Manning treated the people, the Constitution, the Treasury and the natural resources of Trinidad & Tobago as so many personal pools into which he could dip to whip out whatsoever he fancied … what would he have done, had he be given what he might interpret as a mandate last evening?
But he added (referring to the newly elected People's Partnership leaders):
The first responsibility [Trinidad and Tobago] has is to do its best to try to make sure it doesn’t have to boots out Kamla, Jack, Winston & Co in a few years, and put in Keith Rowley’s side, just to stop another haemorrhage.
Let us all be patient and understanding as the new order takes over. There's a lot of work to be done and, as our new Prime Minister rightfully keeps saying, we have to do it together.
Guanaguanare urged continued civic involvement:
Our work has not ended. Be vigilant, be vocal, participate.
We can leave nothing completely in the hands of others, especially those who try to convince us that we must. We should know this now if we didn't before.
gspottt, the blog of the sexual orientation rights group CAISO, expressed similar sentiments, asking readers to “Get ready to work with your new Government and Parliament to move our issues forward.” And Twitter user Anthony (@anthonycbis) remarked: “I hope that the press will continue to do its job and remain critical of the sitting government at all times.”
Many online commentators reacted to the defeat of Manning and the PNM with humour and sarcasm. “I suppose Manning and accomplices must be wondering what to do with all the victory food and drinks they ordered for the victory party,” wrote This Beach Called Life. On Twitter, David Wears (@De_real_dwears) announced:
And Fake Patrick Manning (@patrickmanning), who remained relatively quiet during the campaign, issued a stream of satirical comments:
Adding, in a telling reference to events unfolding in Jamaica: