There is a continuous stream of commentary about how badly the country is doing particularly in terms of the economy and crime. Despite this dissatisfaction, if general elections were called in the morning, my prediction is that the People’s National Movement (PNM) will retain power.
Cultural commentator David Rudder was spot on when he sang: “…how we vote is not how we party!” Except for The Organisation for National Reconstruction’s (ONR) defeat in 1981 and the 33/3 victory of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) in 1986, we have been stuck voting based on race, religion, and skepticism for anything new and different.
Recall the 1981 general election where the ONR received the second-highest number of votes and failed to win one single seat (“Not a dam’ seat for them!” is the line from the calypso ringing in my ears). These were exceptions and while one may argue that the mood of the people is changing, I am willing to put a little bit of money that the PNM will win. The failed experiment of the People’s Partnership (PP) demonstrated the potential for coalition governments to succeed but there are too many “open wounds” for that partnership to be re-established and gain traction in the approximately 39 months left until the 2025 elections.
There are currently 3 clear entities out on the streets: Watson Duke’s Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP); Gary Griffith’s National Transformation Alliance (NTA) and Phillip Alexander’s Progressive Empowerment Party (PEA). So far, Makela Panday has not indicated her intentions for the next general elections and I won’t be surprised at anything she and her daddy, former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday might dream up. Given our history, it is simple to conclude that neither of these entities on their own will cause the groundswell necessary to remove the incumbent.
If this were a movie, all that would be necessary is to identify a figurehead under whose leadership they could all function and provide a third choice to the voting public. But this is the politically complex Trinidad and Tobago, so that is unlikely to happen
In the 2020 general elections, the PNM received 322,180 votes which represented 49.05% of the voter turnout while the United National Congress (UNC) received 309,654 representing 47.14% of the votes. Since then, the PNM has been working hard to keep its supporters happy and while they are in control of the treasury, there isn’t enough money to trickle down. Once things remain the same, that 49.05% of the voter turnout will vote as they are accustomed to, and we are likely to continue along this slippery slope.
The “wild card” in the equation is the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) who boldly left their hometown in Tobago to brazenly challenge homeboy “Rowley” in Trinidad in the upcoming local government elections. A good thrashing in those elections is likely to send the PDP leader Watson Duke back home to focus on repeating the strategic success that A. N. R. Robinson and Winston Murray experienced because of their retention of the Tobago seats.
There is another possible scenario. The UNC can experiment with a major change in its leadership, but that is problematic because, since former Minister of Trade, Vasant Bharath lost the campaign for political leadership to Kamla Persad Bissessar, he has spoken out in an individual capacity. The other name whispered under one’s breath is Dr. Roodal Moonilal but he appears to not have a high level of trust within the Party.
Politics is not T20 cricket. It can be more likened to a test match, which is won based on strategy and building partnerships. With each passing over, the required run rate increases, leading to risky strokes and increasing the likelihood of wickets falling rapidly.
The PNM just needs to be patient and bowl a reasonable line and length and they will win the game. There is power in incumbency. A PNM win will be unfortunate for the country because thus far Dr. Rowley and his team have not demonstrated the intellectual competence to change the trajectory of our country.
The local government elections will indeed provide a good sense of the temperature of the country and if the PNM is successful, it might just provide an opportunity to call early general elections and therefore allow the PNM to extend its stay in office. Either way, the road will be rough.