The electoral race is on for the 2020 elections. This election would be different from 2015 in various ways. The political issues and the campaign itself from 2015 are largely different from today with a few similarities.
The government was unpopular then and on the defense as this government is now. That government finished its full five years term with some four months extra. This government is short of a month for its full term that would have expired mid September.
The major issue affecting the government in 2015 was the stain of perceived corruption. This election, the primary issues are the economy, widespread joblessness, security, quality of candidates, and the campaign itself. Other issues like health, crime, education, etc are still around. But the telling point would be whether people believe the government has managed the economy and security to earn a second term.
In 2015, the UNC returned with some 70% of its incumbents. Now, the PNM has returned 70% of incumbents as candidates. The UNC is proceeding with some 70% of candidates and likely MPs who would be new. So there is a new team versus an old or veteran one. Voters say they prefer a combination of veterans and new faces. One cannot completely sacrifice experience for all youths. Voters feel freshness and energetic youths are good, but a party also needs skill and experience to debate or manage a post Covid government and economy.Voters are not very excited about the candidates in either camp as compared with say in 2000 when Basdeo Panday was at his political zenith, the peak of his political strength until he made tactical blunders. He had a formidable team in Ramesh Maharaj, Kamla Persad Bissessar, Carlos John, Mervyn Assam, Trevor Sudama, Ralph Maraj, Sadiq Baksh, among others. That kind of quality combination is not seen in either party today. Voters are not very pleased with the UNC lineup, but they are also very dissatisfied with the performance of the government. The UNC is out of the paddock late; they have beaten by the bell. It seems the PNM is more organized as all candidates are selected and battle ready. The UNC is a few days late to select candidates albeit in only 17 safe seats (three of which are considered as marginals). In 2015, the incumbent was defending 28 seats (ten in marginals). This election, the incumbent is defending 23 seats (seven in marginals). In 2015, the incumbent went into the election knowing the date but late in organizing. This election, the incumbent knew the date and appears very organized. The PNM has a formidable team of new comers with national profile in Penny Beckles, Brian Manning, and Keith Scotland all of whom are assets to the party. The UNC has selected its candidates in marginals. It now needs to nominate candidates (in the mould of Larry Lalla, Vasanth Bharath, Kevin Ramnarine, etc.) who will resonate with swing voters to help the party in the corridor in the marginals.
What disadvantages UNC this election is going into it as a single entity as opposed to 2015 or 2010 when it was a partnership. No so single party ever beat the PNM except once in 2000 under Basdeo Panday’s charismatic leadership. Kamla is trying to replicate what Panday did in 2000 to create history.
One also notes that in 2015, UNC had unlimited resources with PNM struggling to raise funds. Now there is the opposite. PNM has bountiful resources and the advantages of incumbency. Also, in 2015, PNM was on an upswing and UNC on a downswing. This election, there is the reverse as witnessed in the local elections.
In terms of the method of campaign, the 2015 election had mass meetings and an electronic campaign. This is a Covid election (virtual) campaign. The candidates will be tested on novel strategies of communicating with new creative approaches in listening to voters. It will be more social media centered as opposed to mass based gatherings. There will be more house to house, old time campaign with small cottage meetings buttressed by national media (radio and TV). There will be a high frequency of small meetings as opposed to a small frequency of large gatherings.
The government has capitalized on its management of Covid, but it alone can’t deliver a knock out punch. People at the bottom are also concerned about bread and butter. Recent disturbance can have an effect on the outcome.
This would be a low poll election. Interest in it is not as high in 2010 or 2015. The outcome of the election will largely depend on the floating, independent voters, many of who said they would not vote. They made the difference in the last several elections and they will hold the key to the outcome on August 10.
Unlike in 2015, this election will determine the political faith of the leader of both parties. Whoever loses will go into political retirement. So the stakes are high for both Kamla and Rowley.