The constituency of Chaguanas East, with 25,344 registered voters, is considered to be a marginal constituency.
Marginal constituencies are defined as those where there is a difference of 3,000 votes or less between the first and second candidates during a general election. The constituency of Chaguanas East was created for the 2007 general election and its polling divisions were drawn from the former Chaguanas constituency and the Caroni Central constituency. As a brand new constituency in 2007, it had Polling Divisions 2716, 2720, 2770, 2772, 2815, 2820, 2822, 2823, 2824, 2827 and 2855 taken from the former Chaguanas constituency and Polling Divisions 2821, 2825, 2826, 2828, 2831, 2832, 2850 and 2851 drawn from the Caroni Central constituency to complete its creation.
With less than five weeks before the 2020 general election, candidates for both the People’s National Movement (PNM), current Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat and the United National Congress’s (UNC) current Chaguanas Mayor Vandana Mohit have already begun canvassing the constituency, hoping to woo voters their way.
When the constituency was created in 2007, the candidate for the then-newly formed Congress of the People (COP), Nirad Tewarie got 4,086 votes to UNC candidate Kirk Meighoo’s 4,993 votes. PNM candidate Mustapha Abdul-Hamid got 6,757 votes and captured the seat.
In the 2010 general election, UNC candidate Stephen Cadiz got 10,797 votes, while the incumbent Abdul-Hamid got 6,717 votes. New National Vision candidate Prakash Persad got 39 votes.
The UNC held on to the seat again in 2015 with Fazal Karim. While Karim got 9,284 votes, the PNM’s Parbatee Helen Maharaj got 7,860 votes. Then leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) Jack Warner earned 771 votes.
Chaguanas East is bordered by Chaguanas West in the west, Caroni Central in the south, Caroni East in the east and both Chaguanas West and Caroni East at its apex in the north.
Over the past week, Guardian Media has been interviewing constituents of Chaguanas East by traversing through the communities and meeting residents at their homes. During those meetings, constituents were asked a series of questions and their responses were recorded anonymously as the majority declined to speak on the record, saying they view politics as too much of a controversial topic to speak publicly on it.
Enterprise forms a major part of the constituency. For several years Enterprise was not seen as a safe place for residents and visitors as it struggled with a growing crime problem.
During the time our news team spent in Enterprise last week, however, we were welcomed by residents, gifted ripe mangoes and allowed into homes and yards to have conversations with those in the area. The residents were friendly and welcoming and expressed their gratitude that the issue of crime was taken care of, saying they now feel safer in their homes.
Unemployment was an issue identified in Enterprise. Throughout the constituency, many residents complained that poorly maintained drains were responsible for perennial flooding. Many also reported that poverty is a major issue within the constituency, saying that those who live below the poverty line and are the most vulnerable, are often ignored.
Question: How often do you see your Member of Parliament?
“I have never seen him.”
“I see him in his office.”
“Not at all, I have only seen the man on tv.”
“Sometimes, he helped me to get a food card during the pandemic.”
“I saw him once recently when he did a walkabout in the area but before that, I didn’t see any representative from any party.”
“Now and then.”
“No, we don’t see anybody, especially in this area.”
“He is very active in the area.”
“When there were floods, he was around.”
Question: Are you satisfied with the level of service that you have received over the last five years from your Member of Parliament?
“It was going good so far.”
“No government has ever come here and done anything for anybody.”
“We asked several times for some help to fix our roof, they never came.”
“I am not satisfied, we have flooding issues, the drains are not being cleaned.”
“There was no improvement in the area.”
“He never visited this area, I don’t know if it has to do with voting patterns because he did not win these polling divisions, so he could not do anything for the area.”
“Yes, we are better off than many other parts of the country.”
“I am not satisfied, the drainage needs to be done properly, every time it rains, here floods.”
“No, he could have tried to help people to get out of poverty and he didn’t.”
Question: Does race, party loyalty or policy play a role in who you vote for?
“The last few times I voted, I voted for who said they could make a difference in the country.”
“I don’t vote, they don’t do anything for anybody.”
“I vote based on policy, not race.”
“I don’t vote, I don’t see it being a big game changer in my life.”
“What they can do for the country, their policy, where I grow up never had anything like race.”
“Policy and that is what we need right now, too many people vote based on race.”
“Party loyalty, it has nothing to do with race.”
“Policy but the change does not trickle down to the lower class.”
“Party loyalty, I will lay down my life for Kamla.”
“I have never voted and I don’t intend to vote, they are all the same and do only for themselves.”
“Policy, I don’t care what colour you are.”
Question: Do you believe the economy has improved under this Government?
“No, it is difficult as a business owner to make a living.”
“No, it’s the worst for the last five years.”
“No, it fell drastically.”
“No, Rowley hasn’t done anything in the last five years he sitting there.”
“Yes, a little.”
“No, it got worse, it was never so bad since I living 50 years now.”
“No, but it has not under any government.”
“Yes plenty, it could not get better than that.”
“Yes because they come there and didn’t meet a dollar.”
“Not at all, it failed badly.”
Question: Are you satisfied with how the Government is handling crime?
“No, the only thing they handled well was COVID.”
“No, I find they could have done a lot more.”
“Yes, crime is down in this area.”
“Since Gary was appointed he is doing a lot.”
“Yes, but crime is something we will never be satisfied with how it is handled, it is a worldwide epidemic.”
“Definitely not and every year the National Security budget goes up.”
“No, look at them running for cover in Port-of-Spain.”
“Not satisfied at all.”
“No, there is more crime and police going around accusing the innocent.”
“No, the police are using too much excessive force.”
“Yes, but they need to bring better laws.”
Question: Who do you think is a better leader, Dr Keith Rowley or Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar?
“Kamla Persad-Bissesar, she did way more than Rowley.”
“Dr Keith Rowley, he is straightforward and has a level head.”
“Rowley, he talks plain and people won’t like him for that, but he does what is right.”
“Kamla Persad-Bissesar, when she was there, we used to benefit and there were opportunities for young people.”
“Kamla Persad-Bissesar, she worked faster and Rowley takes longer to do everything.”
“Kamla Persad-Bissesar, I always had faith in her, since Rowley got into power, they have not done much.”
“Kamla Persad-Bissesar, in her time, I couldn’t complain, I had work right through for the five years, in this last five years, things so hard, the sun hot and butter can’t cut.”
“Neither, both are them are the same.”
“Neither, both end up in the same problems.”
“Neither of them is fit to lead the country, we need younger heads who can deal with modern issues.”
“Dr Rowley, for how he handled COVID.”
“Kamla is simply the best.”
Candidates vying for Chaguanas East, the United National Congress’ (UNC) Vandana Mohit, the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) Clarence Rambharat and the Progressive Empowerment Party’s (PEP) Matthew Gibbs were asked the question; Chaguanas East faces several challenges such as traffic gridlock traffic, crime, unemployment. How will you deal with these issues?
Rambharat: “I don’t know who said those are the three major issues.”
Mohit: “As Mayor of Chaguanas, I am aware of the concerns within the communities some of which I have already started working on; that being traffic plans, employment, youth development, safety and security. This is another step for me to move into a greater level of the transformation of Chaguanas.”—Charles Kong Soo
Gibbs responded to Guardian Media via Whatsapp message on Thursday at 10:15 pm. “I will contact you after lunch tomorrow. I do apologise for the late response.”