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Calls for Vigilance and Participation as Trinidad & Tobago Gets A New Government

An illustration of Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister-Elect, Dr. Keith Rowley, by Darren Trinity Cheewah, used with permission.

An illustration of Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister-Elect, Dr. Keith Rowley, by Darren Trinity Cheewah, used with permission.

The beleaguered Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration has come to the end of its tenure in Trinidad and Tobago. By a slim margin—23 seats to 18—the opposition People's National Movement, under the leadership of Dr. Keith Rowley, emerged victorious in yesterday's general election. (See the full list of constituency winners here.)

The Prime Minister-Elect said he was “humbled” by the win and in his first speech after declaring victory, stated that the new administration would be looking at an overhaul of the national education curriculum and the implementation of austerity measures.

In a curious twist, disgraced former FIFA vice president Jack Warner's Independent Liberal Party failed to win a single seat, though that did not deter Warner from taking credit for “ousting Kamla”.

Some were displeased with the ungracious tone of the outgoing prime minister's concession speech. Facebook user Rose-Marie Ingrid Lemessy-Forde quipped:

Outgoing PM speech was like Angostura bitters. She could have at least congratulated Dr. Rowley. Never mind…bye bye Kamla.

Some were also disappointed in Mrs. Persad-Bissessar choice not to go to her party's headquarters to address the crowd:

Her decision may have been a wise one, however, given the poor turnout. One What'sApp user, Robin Foster, chuckled at a reporter's comment that “there were more red chairs than yellow jerseys at Rienzi Complex”. Red and yellow are the respective colours of Rowley's and Persad-Bissessar's parties.

While Persad-Bissessar talked about respecting the democratic process and urged her supporters to accept the wishes of the people, Dr. Rowley was praised for the inclusiveness and nationalism inherent in his first official address:

Rowley also called on the citizenry to play an active role in the governance of the country, echoing the sentiments of many who are dissatisfied with the power to change the direction of the country being vested only in voting every five years:

And in apparent response to citizens’ concerns about swapping one corruption-accused administration for another, Rowley said:

On Facebook, Derek Daniel said:

Ok folks party done. I hope that the new Government is ready for the major challenge ahead, which is to safely guide our country through the impending economic crisis that is looming. Oil and natural gas prices are not going up anytime soon so good governance and strong leadership is needed. I hope that the ills of the past are not repeated. It's time to work together.

Facebook user Dion Boucaud shared similar sentiments:

I congratulate Dr. Keith Rowley and the PNM for a hard won victory. We the people now repose our faith in you to steer us wisely over the next five years. I hold out my hand to my fellow Trinis to put aside our election differences and now begin the hard work of staving off a looming recession and to start placing our country first. To the PNM, we watch carefully your every step and hope you never loose [sic] sight of the people who have stained their fingers for you.

One eligible voter who chose not to go to the polls yesterday, wondered if the new government would learn from the lessons of the past:

The PNM was voted out in 1986 because they practically bankrupted the country. After the 1995 general election, the coalition UNC administration was also voted out because of massive corruption surrounding the Piarco airport project. The PNM was voted back in and then out again in 2010 because of similar issues of corruption in the Manning administration, primarily with regard to Calder Hart and UDECOTT. Now the Kamla-Persad Bissessar administration, which promised change in 2010, has been voted out amidst massive corruption allegations and the PNM, which also has a history of engaging in corrupt practices, has been re-elected. Dr. Rowley has an opportunity here, but he must reign in his ministers and keep them on a tight leash if they want to get re-elected in another five years.

Other netizens were concerned about the role that race still plays in the country's politics. Facebook user Rhoda Bharath, referring to the fact that two solid PNM candidates failed to win their seats, asked:

I need to get this off my chest…how can race still be so important?
How does someone decide to reject a candidate like Clarence or Neil [Two Indian PNM candidates]?
I don't get it.

Dion Boucaud added:

I am astounded by some of the most venomous and hateful comments being posted on FB by some of my fellow Trinis. How in 2015 can you refer to someone as ‘a monkey’ and not think it's racist? How can you be so spiteful of someone who has not yet even been sworn in? How is it that the people who voted for change in 2015 are somehow less educated than those who voted for change in 2010? Do you not realize that you're not making any sense? Do you not realize that you're the ones coming across as uneducated and spiteful? Do you not realize that we all live here together? Or is it that what's good for the goose is only for the goose? Smh

Regionally, netizens wondered if the changing of the guard was going to be a trend throughout the Caribbean:

While some netizens were disappointed by the election results, others were overjoyed. Facebook user Hermese Duncan-Alexander couldn't resist taking a ‘selfie’ with her new prime minister:


The overriding lesson throughout the whole election experience however, seems to be that citizens are beginning to acknowledge their role in the process. In the words of Facebook user Rhoda Bharath:

‪#‎BeatOut2015‬ is over. Get yourselves ready for ‪#‎ProjectVigilance‬.
Five years of consciously participating in our democracy. It didnt end last night…it's only just begun.

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