The sixth of eight scheduled general elections in the Caribbean Community was held on Monday, Aug. 10, with the governing People’s National Movement (PNM) in Trinidad losing one of its 23 seats but holding on for a narrow three-seat win and a new five year mandate.
But the win for Prime Minister Keith Rowley and his cabinet means that the PNM, the party that took the twin island republic with Tobago to independence from Britain in 1962, has been able to stave off a spirited run on power on the larger and richer south Caribbean nations by Indo Caribbean parties in elections this year.
Already in Guyana, the most resource rich in the bloc of 15 nations, the Indo-dominated People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was declared winner of the controversial March 2 general elections. The cabinet has already moved swiftly to consolidate power by summarily firing dozens of political appointees from the previous administration and promising generous COVID-relief and stimulus packages in the coming weeks among other political goodies in the coming days.
In neighboring Suriname, the Hindustani-supported VHP party of Pres. Chandra Santokhi took power in July, two months after the May 25 general elections that yielded up 20 of the 51 assembly seats. That performance meant that the VHP won the largest single bloc among a slew of contesting parties and the right to hold the presidency in a four-party coalition that includes Suriname’s main Maroon ABOP political grouping. That party won 10 seats and says it is aiming to have Suriname elect its first Maroon president in 2025.
Meanwhile, in Port of Spain Trinidad’s capital, PNM supporters were jubilant as the party was able to stave off a resurgent and determined United National Congress (UNC) of former PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar who will go to parliament with 19 of the 41 seats. Persad-Bissessar is expected to lose control of the UNC going forward, having lost two consecutive general elections and being able to only hold on to power for a single five year term when the UNC was in office, weighed down by credible allegations of runaway corruption. These allegations still appear to haunt the party today.
“Tonight, the PNM has won the general elections. Tonight, against all odds in a most difficult situation, the PNM has been called to service in the government of T&T for a second time. The people of T&T had done the right thing. The future in T&T is bright. We have difficult days ahead but as dark showers will bring thunder and lightning, after that there is bright sunshine. The passage of the storm is to survive and then enjoy the good weather,” an elated Rowley said.
He hinted that the situation could have been better if hundreds of elderly PNM supporters were able to turn out and vote as many had feared infection from the COVID pandemic and chose to remain at home.
For 2020 already, voters in the region have faced the polls in Guyana, Suriname, St. Kitts, The British Virgin Islands and now Trinidad. Others scheduled are Belize and St. Vincent by December making 2020 one of the busiest on record for the community of about 17 million people.
As the dust settles in Port of Spain, all eyes are now being turned to Jamaica, where Prime Minister Andrew Holness appears anxious to get the contest out of the way with the stress of the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions at the forefront of his mind.
Speculation is rife on the island of nearly 3 million that a date could soon be named, as the governing Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) has already given every indication that a contest would be organized soon, months ahead of the 2021 due date. Polls show the opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) trailing by 19 points.
General Secretary Horace Chang says Holness will announce a “date soon, soon” noting that pandemic protocols are being prepared in earnest to govern campaigning and crown assembly during this period.
“There is a full protocol being put out by the ministry of health, and we will publish that very soon. We are going to do a booklet of it and circulate it to our candidates, but COVID-19 is here for some time, and this election will be run under COVID-19. The protocols will be clearly articulated so that the constituents can maintain them,” he said.