The Barataria/San Juan constituency, with 25,622 registered voters, is considered to be a marginal constituency, with voters often shifting loyalties between the two major political parties.
In constituencies where there is a difference of 3,000 votes or less between the first and second candidate in the previous election may be designated a marginal seat.
With Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s declaration on Friday of an August 10 election date, all eyes will be on the marginal constituencies.
Religion has played a major role in the Barataria/San Juan constituency with a large voting bloc coming from the Muslim community.
United National Congress incumbent Dr Fuad Khan has held onto the Barataria/San Juan constituency for the last ten years and also served as MP from 1995 to 2007. Khan defeated the PNM’s Dr Linda Baboolal in 1995 to enter Parliament. Khan also defeated the PNM’s Nafeesa Mohammed in 2000 and only a split in the UNC in 2007 would see the constituency going back into PNM hands.
Khan is not offering himself up for re-election and is being replaced by Opposition Senator Saddam Hosein. The ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) has put forward local entertainer, Jason Williams (JW) as their candidate for the hotly-contested seat.
The People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) has selected Albertha Purdeen as their candidate, while Johnathan Thomas of the Youth Empowerment Party (YEP) also looks set to contest the constituency again.
In 2007, the PNM candidate Joseph Ross got 7,179 votes to the UNC-A candidate Nazemool Mohammed’s 5,362. The newly-formed Congress of the People’s candidate Jamal Mohammed captured 3,817 votes, splitting the UNC’s vote and giving the PNM victory in Barataria/San Juan.
In 2010, UNC selected Dr Fuad Khan, who had previously held on to the seat from 1995 to 2007 as their candidate. Khan beat incumbent Ross by 4,208 votes with a total of 10,950 votes. Ross got 6,742 votes.
Selected again in 2015, Khan held on to the seat by a mere 540 votes against the PNM’s Hafeez Ali, who got 8,182 votes. Khan had a total of 8,722 votes, while Johnathan Thomas of the YEP got 34 votes.
Barataria/San Juan is bordered by St Joseph in the east, Chaguanas West in the south, Laventille East/Morvant in the west and St Ann’s East in the north.
St Joseph is another marginal constituency—switching hands from the PNM in 1986 to the National Alliance for Reconstruction’s (NAR) Dr Carson Charles. But in 1991 the PNM regained control of the seat with candidate Augustus Ramrekersingh beating Charles by 2,430 votes.
The UNC broke ground in St Joseph in 1995 with Mervyn Assam and kept control of the constituency until 2007 when the PNM’s Kennedy Swarathsingh took the seat. The UNC took control of the constituency again in 2010 with retired judge Herbert Volney.
Volney resigned in 2013 and after a snap-election in the seat went into PNM hands with Terrence Deyalsingh. The UNC offered Crime Watch host Ian Alleyne but he could not cut it. Deyalsingh retained the seat in the 2015 general election.
Over the past week, a Guardian Media news team has been touring the Barataria/San Juan constituency, interviewing voters.
Voters from different geographical areas in the constituency—including El Socorro Extension, El Socorro Road, Boundary Road, Newalloville Avenue and Tenth Avenue—were asked a series of questions (listed below.)
Of approximately 120 interviews, the responses of 100 people were recorded and while the residents reported being plagued with issues such as an increasingly high crime rate, unemployment and neglect, at least a third of them reported not knowing the identity of their MP.
In several low-income areas, constituents said they were unconcerned about the current MP and those offering themselves for the August 10 general election as there was no assistance forthcoming for them or their families from either of the two major parties. Some people complained about traffic congestion, lack of water and poorly maintained roads in some areas.
While race has typically been considered a polarising factor in the general elections over the years, none of the 100 people interviewed reported using ethnicity to determine their voting.
USe small print
Do you know who the Member of Parliament for Barataria/San Juan is?
How often do you see your Member of Parliament?
Are you satisfied with the level and quality of service you have received from the Member of Parliament over the last five years?
Do you know who are the people offering themselves as candidates for the respective parties, PNM, UNC, in your constituency this election?
Only one: 17
Does race, party or policy determine how you vote?
Party Loyalty: 18
Do you believe the economy improved under the PNM’s stewardship over the last five years?
Are you satisfied with the Government’s handling of crime?
Who is a better leader, Dr Keith Rowley or Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar?
Dr Keith Rowley: 13
Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar: 52
Comments: Who is a better leader?
“None of them, they both cut from the same cloth and is only piccong we get, not performance.”
“I like Kamla more but since I saw how Rowley handle COVID-19, I will say he is the better leader.”
“Rowley handled COVID good but Kamla was a better leader all around, she did more for the country.”
“Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Under her everybody had jobs and were able to get help to take care of their families.”
“Dr Keith Rowley, he is more responsible.”
“Neither, I rather see someone young with fresh ideas.”
“Dr Rowley, I like his way of handling things.”
“Kamla, she listens to people.”
“Dr Keith Rowley, when Kamla was there it was bacchanal in the Parliament.”
“Mrs Persad-Bissessar. As the first female prime minister, she did an excellent job but I am also proud of Dr Rowley for handling the present situation.”
“Mrs Persad-Bissessar, she was very open and not arrogant like Keith Rowley. Under her there was more progress for the whole country.”
“Neither, both of them always bashing each other, they set no example for the rest of the nation.”
“Kamla, she took care of everyone from babies to businesses.”
“Kamla. But for the pandemic, Keith Rowley did very well, I have to give ‘Jack’ his jacket.”
Comments: Are you satisfied with the Government’s handling of crime?
“They doing a good job but crime is not for any government to handle.”
“No, they have failed miserably.”
“In the beginning, they did really bad, but within the past year or two, they doing a lot better.”
“No, they need to step up on their policies and training.”
“No, it could be more rigid, crack down more on criminals.”
“No, they can’t handle crime and the police killing out the people.”
“Yes, they could control it, but can’t stop it.”
“Yes, it doesn’t matter which party comes into government, crime will always exist, they can’t stop it.”
“No, there are better ways to handle crime.”
Comments: Are you satisfied with the level and quality of service you have received from the Member of Parliament over the last five years?
“No, he helped certain people in the area and I asked for assistance and never got it.”
“No, he wasn’t doing anything.”
“No, I haven’t seen anything done to assist the business community.”
“No, I am more familiar with the councillors, they are the ones who help us.”
“No, he did nothing for me.”
“Yes, but the political system does not allow him to do anything while in Opposition.”
“I would say yes, but there is room for improvement.”
“Yes, if we have a problem, he would usually respond.”
“Yes, he has done a lot of good things.”
“Yes, 100 per cent, he is the best on the island.”
Comments: Does race, party or policy determine how you vote?
“Policy, I need to know who will do what is best for my family.”
“Party loyalty, as long as they continue to treat me good.”
“I am a strong PNM, there is no race, but I will vote for performance.”
“Party loyalty, I vote for the UNC because of what they did for the country.”
“I will stay with the party that is helping people.”
“Policy, I look at the candidates and what they can best offer.”
“Party loyalty, I prefer to stick to who I know.”
“Policy, what they can do for the people, race doesn’t do anything for me.”
Comments: How often do you see your Member of Parliament?
“Not often enough.”
“Only for elections.”
“Anytime I want to.”
“Nobody comes here.”
“He comes when we have issues.”
“When he is campaigning and when there are problems.”
“For the big flood last year.”
“If I want to see him, I will go to his office.”
“Only when is election time.”
Comments: Do you believe the economy improved under the PNM’s stewardship over the last five years?
“No, and the loss of jobs creating more crime.”
“No, it just gets worse.”
“Yes, a lot.”
“Yes, it has stabilised.”
“No, it’s the worse since 1956.”
“No, they failed miserably.”
“Yes, a little.”
Saddam vs JW
UNC candidate Senator Saddam Hosein responds:
The UNC is a national party. We represent everyone. Dr Fuad Khan has endorsed my candidacy 100 per cent and this is in keeping with the policies of the political leader (Kamla Persad-Bissessar) and the UNC of mixing experience with the fresh young faces.
As a result of the last five years of the mismanagement by the current regime, we have seen people in this constituency and T&T by extension have all suffered from unemployment especially for the youths and no opportunities.
Crime definitely is an issue in the area and it has also been a national issue. This present Government has offered no solutions in order to really tackle the escalating crime rate.
We had already identified crime and unemployment as two of the major issues in the constituency.
We know crime is a social issue. The PNM has always advocated just locking up people as an approach. We must deal with it from the bottom up.
Regarding violent crime, we already indicated that we would transform the criminal system because that is in some trouble as we have seen.
We will get T&T on the right track in terms of keeping our citizens safe because we must implement deterrence strategies to prevent violent crime from occurring.
We intend to empower the youths and give them employment so that they could use their time so that we could have a more prosperous and productive T&T going forward.
There is so much talent right here in Barataria/San Juan, but many constituents don’t have the opportunity because of the neglect and suffering of this PNM Government.
With respect to unemployment, the political leader has already indicated that the UNC is ready to create 50,000 new jobs and we will do it because we have done it already.
Our entire master plan is based on diversification. We will get T&T working which is inclusive of the young people to get them working again and those peple who are unemployed in Barataria/San Juan.
We in the UNC have performed, showed our commitment to the people in times when they were in need. The Government was absent especially throughout the flooding and COVID-19 period where people who applied for grants could not access them. The UNC took up the mantle and we were the ones providing relief in terms of food and other types of assistance to vulnerable people who were unemployed for a prolonged period of time.
We favour our chances. This is a UNC seat and will remain UNC in the general election come August 10.
Our chances are excellent in this seat. We have seen from the response on the ground that I have been receiving that there is an overwhelming support from the constituents because they’re ready to remove this current PNM Government.
PNM candidate Jason “JW” Williams responds:
The People’s National Movement (PNM) candidate for Barataria/San Juan Jason “JW” Williams’ was contacted via Whatsapp on Friday for his comment and replied yesterday.
“Let’s touch base next week. I’m under some pace with my walks and meetings and it just went up a notch since we got the date of elections. Thanks for reaching out.”
—Charles Kong Soo