Tobagonians will head to the polls for the second time this year tomorrow to determine who controls the Tobago House of Assembly (THA). This vote will be the first under the new revised boundaries system that increased the constituencies from 12 seats to 15.
At the beginning of the year, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) led by Watson Duke held the People’s National Movement (PNM) to a historic 6-6 tie, the closest an opposing party had gotten to toppling the PNM in almost 20 years.
The Tobago Council of the PNM is led by Tracy Davidson-Celestine.
At that time, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley initially left the two parties to resolve the issue but maintained that he and the Parliament would get involved if the matter could not be amicably resolved.
By February, amendments to the THA Act were proposed to break the deadlock.
By March, Rowley met with the THA Assembly, which the PDP called a publicity stunt at the time.
In September, the Elections and Boundaries Commission submitted its draft report on the increased boundaries to Parliament for debate and it was passed with 21 votes in favour, 18 against and no abstentions.
By October, THA Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis announced the December 6 election date and since then there have been nightly campaigns in Tobago as the party tried to galvanise supports and woo those on the fence.
According to the EBC, some 45 candidates are contesting the election. The PNM and the PDP are fielding 15 candidates each, while the Innovative Democratic Alliance is contesting 13 of the 15 seats, with no candidate for the Belle Garden/Glamorgan and Roxborough/Argyle seats.
The Class Action Reform Movement and Unity of the People parties have each fielded one candidate in the electoral district of Buccoo/Mt Pleasant, which is the only electoral district being contested by five candidates.
But the fight for the THA has boiled down to a two-way battle between the PDP and PNM.
At each of the nightly meetings for both parties, there seemed to be two main political messages—the PNM called on the electorate to stick with what was working and to allow it to continue with its development plans for agriculture and the tourism sector, which would, in turn, create jobs, while the PDP’s campaign mantra was that it was time for a change.
The two parties also fell on either side of a surprising critical issue, secession and independence for Tobago.
The PDP seemed to find support from the voters on this issue and also campaigned on what it called “bread and butter” issues. The party promised more jobs once the country was freed from Trinidad. It said 99 per cent of the oil and gas found between Trinidad and Tobago was used in Trinidad while the island got just one per cent of the proceeds from such activity. The PDP called for any deposits found off Tobago to be used more there than in Trinidad.
The Prime Minister attended a few of the PNM meetings and at one dismissed that completely. He said Tobago contributed some $200 million to the overall GDP, which was not even enough to cover the salaries under the THA.
The PNM also kept questioning why Duke was listed as the PDP’s official leader but the party was being headlined by its deputy leader Farley Augustine.
Augustine spoke at almost all of the party’s campaign meetings and even when Guardian Media reached out to Duke to pin down an interview in the build-up to the election, he referred all questions to Augustine.
The PNM questioned what Duke was hiding. But while Davidson-Celestine focused her attention on what needed to be achieved in Tobago, Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis and Rowley trained their guns on Duke, questioning his morals, questionable handling of the Public Services Association and the rape charge he is facing before the courts.
Duke, who also came under fire from union members after some of his PSA executives were seen on the campaign trail with him, never addressed the issue of why he allowed Augustine to take the lead while holding on to the leadership title.
The PNM got some mud flung on its campaign too, after two clips of one of its female candidates dancing suggestively surfaced. In an accompanying audio clip, the same candidate, Franka Cordner, was heard bad-mouthing Dennis and Tobago East MP Ayana Webster-Roy.
The PDP distanced themselves from that video and Cordner apologised for it, saying she was no longer that person and had made the mistake of trusting people who betrayed her.
The parties ramped up their campaigns during the day yesterday and overnight. The PDP, on social media, yesterday said it was forced to cancel its big meeting planned for Roxborough, saying the party was being threatened.
Guardian Media reached out to both Duke and Augustine about the threat but neither responded.