Caricom braces for yet another election in bumper 2020

Bert Wilkinson | 7/9/2020, midnight
The Caribbean Community is bracing for yet another tense general elections in the region with voters in resource-rich Trinidad and ...
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The Caribbean Community is bracing for yet another tense general elections in the region with voters in resource-rich Trinidad and Tobago being next in line to face the polls in the wake of those held in Guyana, Suriname, St. Kitts and Anguilla so far this year.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley announced the August 10th date during the last sitting of the island’s parliament at the weekend.

This has been a rather busy year for governments in the bloc of 15 nations from Guyana and Suriname on the South American mainland to Belize in Central America with a slew of governments bidding for consecutive terms in office.

In the next few days, Suriname’s 51-member parliament will meet to elect a president and vice president following the ouster of the National Democratic Party (NDP) government of former army strongman Desi Bouterse in elections held on May 25th.

Bouterse and the NDP had been vying for a third consecutive five-year term, but dire economic times, a steep rise in the cost of living, the COVID-19 pandemic and a sharp weakening of the local dollar have all helped to undermine the NDP, allowing it to drop from a majority of 26 to 16 seats and to opposition benches.

The NDP’s dismal performance has made way for a four-party coalition to replace it and usher in a new era with the NDP in opposition for the first time in two decades.

Across the border Corentyne River with Guyana, no winner has as yet been officially declared more than four months after Guyanese had voted in March 2 general elections as each of the two major race-based parties have claimed victory and has each moved to the courts to help sort out a winner amid allegations from the government side of systematic voter rigging by the opposition.

Still in preparation mode for 2020 are elections in the tiny Eastern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines where Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is vying for a fifth consecutive term in office amid continuing allegations from the opposition of deliberate padding of the voters list.

Voters in Belize are also on the starting blocks for elections before year end and there have been rumblings from both of Jamaica’s two main political behemoths that a date could be set for this year instead of next year as is due.

The Dominican Republic held its own general elections on Sunday with the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) declaring victory after holding 53% of the vote, which––if it is maintained––would be enough to avoid a runoff election in the coming weeks. St. Kitts held its elections on June 5th with the multiparty Team Unity winning a second five year term. The opposition has filed court challenges in six districts, alleging voter fraud.

Meanwhile, both of Trinidad’s two main parties––the governing People’s National Movement (PNM) of PM Rowley and the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) of former PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar––have almost completed screening candidates for the elections and will present them on nominations day, July 17th.

Both have fielded several new faces to run in the 41 geographic constituencies with the UNC dropping 10 of its former big name legislators for this year’s race. The PNM has done likewise.

On Sunday, Rowley immediately removed candidate Ancil Antoine after he lambasted the Trump administration for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and after he had told locals living in or stranded in the U.S. to stay away from the island for the remainder of this year so as to avoid bringing the virus there. He had also referred to the United States as a “sh…t hole country” at a time when the two are fighting to mend a few recent bumps in their relations.

The PNM had 23 of the 41 seats in the last parliament but surveys have predicted a much closer elections this time around.