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PDP Political Leader Watson Duke.

The findings of an ongoing tracking opinion survey being conducted by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) in Tobago finds the PNM leading the opposition PDP for the January 25 THA elections. The PNM is likely to retain office for an unprecedented sixth consecutive term in Tobago easily winning a majority, if not all, of the 12 seats up for grab.

The latest NACTA poll was conducted through Friday to determine popular support for the parties as well as to obtain views on the issues impacting on the lives of Tobagonians. Respondents were interviewed in all of the 12 constituencies.

Based on the findings of the survey, the PNM is leading in nine seats with majority support and PDP one seat with two seats a dead heat. The PNM is ahead of the PDP with very comfortable margins in seven of the nine seats where it leads. It has smaller margins of lead in two other seats. It is not impossible for the PNM to make a clean sweep of all 12 seats. But the poll finds that incumbent Watson Duke is ahead in his seat of Roxborough/Delaford where newcomer Neil Beckles is putting up a strong challenge to unseat him.

The poll finds that the three independent candidates are not leading in any of the seats. However, Dr Denise Tsoi-a-Fatt-Angus, the former PNM speaker of the THA, has some traction in her bid for the Scarborough/Calder Hall seat. She has been mounting a house-to-house campaign. The PNM political leader Tracey Davidson Celestine is comfortably ahead in her Lambeau/Signal Hill seat against PDP’s Wayne Clark.

The race is heating up with more than two weeks of campaigning still remaining. There is an element of excitement among voters as they observe what they perceive as “in-fighting” in both camps between potential leaders for Chief Secretary position. Voters say Acting Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis (incumbent of Buccoo/Mt Pleasant) and Tracey Celestine seem to be at loggerhead in the PNM camp while in the PDP, Farley Augustine and Watson Duke are fighting over leadership. Convention dictates that the leader of a party usually becomes chief secretary once the party wins the elections. A majority feels Tracey Celestine will make a better Chief Secretary than Watson Duke.

The poll finds that incumbent Farley Augustine is struggling to survive, facing a stiff challenge from young Rory Dillon of the PNM in the Charlotteville Speyside Parlatuvier L’Anse Fourmi seat. Boxil Bailey of PNM and Dr Faith Yisrael (PDP) are also locked in a close fight in Belle Gardens Goodwood.

Asked which party they think will win the election, 59 per cent said PNM because “it is better organised and has greater campaign resources than PDP.” The PNM is very active on the ground whereas there has not been much of a PDP presence in terms of campaign paraphernalia or activities. Only 33 per cent of the respondents said PDP has a fighting chance to eke out a narrow victory. But such an outcome seems very unlikely. The remaining respondents (eight per cent) did not offer an opinion on which party likely to prevail. A majority of voters say they are voting PNM because “it is better prepared to tackle development issues.”

Apathy runs very high among exasperated voters with a majority saying they have no interest in the election. Asked what issues would influence how they vote, potential voters said they are concerned about the cost of living, drug abuse, infrastructure, autonomy for Tobago, agriculture, relations with Trinidad, ferry and air bridge, among others. There are also vocal complaints about inadequate representation from some of the THA reps. PNM Incumbents with poor representation have not been re-nominated to face the electorate.