Trinidad holds local elections on Monday August 14 to choose 141 councilors for 14 local authorities. Some one million voters are registered to vote to choose 141 candidates distribute in fourteen local authorities that vary in size. Local government term of office is three years. In the last election, both major parties, PNM and UNC, each won seven. The UNC should be running away with the election given the PNM’s unpopularity. The approval rating of the government is in the 30s percentile. Yet, this year’s outcome is unpredictable.
Unlike Guyana that has 80 local authorities with some 1010 seats, Trinidad has 14 local entities and just 141 seats, all constituency first past the post based. Each local authority also has four aldermen allocated by PR system similar to Guyana’s PR. In Trinidad, there is opposition distrust in electoral integrity.
The ruling PNM last October passed a law to extend the term of office for a year. The law was challenged in court by a voter, contending that government cannot unilaterally extend the term of Councillors. The lower court and Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the government. The Privy Council, the final court of appeal for Trinidad and Tobago, reversed the Trinidad’s courts’ ruling last May, forcing the government to hold elections within three months. Monday’s elections are unpredictable
Since early July, Dr Vishnu Bisram has been conducting a tracking opinion poll to determine popular support. Dr Bisram is known to have been conducting surveys in Trinidad since 1980s. The current poll has interviewed hundreds of likely voters since former FIFA jefe Jack Warner entered the fray on the side of UNC a couple weeks ago. Respondents represent the demographic composition of the population. Jack’s entry has energized and excited the UNC base and has not triggered a similar response from the PNM base. Gary Griffith, former National Security Minister and Police Commissioner, has also shored up the UNC base. Many traditional UNC supporters who were not interested in voting a month ago, now indicate they will vote. A month ago, only 30 percent of the population expressed an interest in casting ballots, with a majority going for the UNC. That turnout number has inched up with most going to UNC. This could help the UNC in competitive marginal seats in the local authorities of Sangre Grande, San Fernando, Siparia, and Chaguanas.
Ordinarily, the PNM, which won a majority of seats since 1983 LGE, would easily win more seats overall. But in this election, the ethnic supporters of PNM are very discontented with their party some 70 percent telling interviewers of NACTA that they won’t vote. A higher percentage of UNC ethnic supporters, approaching 38%, said they will vote. The ethnic distribution of the population between the two largest groups are almost balanced. This places the UNC in an advantage to win the popular vote. But unlike in Guyana, Trinidad has a first past the post system – largest number of votes in a constituency wins the seat. The PNM lost the popular votes in 2019, but won a majority of seats because of the way electoral boundaries were/are drawn. There has not been any shift in boundaries since them. The UNC Alliance has closed the gap with PNM in every seat except for a handful where the candidate makes a difference favoring the PNM. So a low PNM turnout will result in a defeat in a marginal seat. There are a dozen of such seats making them very close to call. Minor parties are also polling votes although not enough to win seats. They are the dark horses that could create some upsets and or could also impact competitive marginal constituencies.
The PNM has a better equipped and oiled election day machinery than the UNC. The challenge it faces is convincing its base to come out to vote. The UNC base is energized and excited and may not require much vehicle resources to come out to cast ballots.
The latest findings show UNC retaining local authorities in its strongholds – some six of the seven it holds including in Siparia and Chaguanas. PNM is projected to also retain six of the seven it holds. Sangre Grande and San Fernando are toss ups. In San Fernando, PNM leads in four seats with UNC leading in three seats and two seats are toss ups. In Grande, PNM and UNC leads in three seats with two seats a toss up. Turnout is benefiting UNC because PNM supporters appear turned off and mal-contented. If PNM is able to arrest or turn around the apathy, it will retain Sando (5-4, 6-3) and capture Grande or tie the latter 4-4.
This is a landmark election that will have a significant bearing not only on local election but the general election in 2025. If UNC loses, pressure will be on the UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to step down. If PNM loses a corporation, it still has two more years in office to rebrand itself. PNM turnout will determine the outcome of the elections making it unpredictable. The minor parties like NTA, PEP, and PDP are not out of the contest. They could create upsets in safe seats in PNM strongholds because of widespread dissatisfaction and or decide the outcome in several marginal seats including Barataria and seats in Chaguanas, Tunapuna, and elsewhere.
The UNC could win 6, or 7, or 8 corporations, The PNM finds itself in the same position.