BY THE END of Monday’s local government by-elections all three political parties involved defied logic by claiming victory. Officials from the People’s National Movement (PNM) swept the floor with a broom amid reverie at Belmont East; United National Congress (UNC) officials in Barataria declared the days of the Dr Keith Rowley administration are numbered; and even the People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) – which received just over 100 votes out of the 13,444 registered to vote – said it had achieved a new level of visibility. Yet, even stopped clocks are right twice a day. If anyone came out of this victorious, it was the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Barring complaints – lodged by all three parties against one another – the voting process went smoothly in what appeared to be a good exercise in democracy. Months of vigorous campaigning, which belied the fact that the results were never going to change the balance of power, ended over the weekend with motorcades and rallies. The leaders of all three parties became involved, with the Prime Minister issuing a lengthy statement to Barataria residents on Sunday, and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar walking around Belmont East just days prior.
While the UNC claimed vindication in gaining more votes in Belmont East, the PNM’s victory there, notwithstanding the UNC’s aggressive campaigning, is a reminder of just how hard it is to make meaningful inroads in traditional “safe seats.” Meanwhile, the PNM will be looking at the narrow defeat in Barataria to see what lessons can be learned. The new UNC councillor in Barataria will not affect the overall balance of power in the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation. However, a new voice will be added to deliberations there in the form of Sharon Maraj-Dharam. The PNM’s Nicole Young will join the Port-of-Spain City Corporation, also held by the PNM.
Over the coming days, the EBC will have to deal with a number of complaints filed. The PNM alleged fake polling stations and bribery; the UNC alleged voters missing from the list and PNM campaigning in the proximity of stations; the PEP lamented the placing of posters close to voting areas and said the PNM and UNC broke rules banning party paraphernalia. But no party went as far as to deem the results illegitimate.
With the Barataria seat being more traditionally marginal, analysts will have some cause to suggest the PNM should take heed of the result as a judgment over its performance. At the same time, the very narrow margin of defeat there is a sign the party still enjoys considerable support.
However the parties chose to view the results, the deeper question of the relevance of local government remains. The need for local government reform, which is intended to bring governance closer to communities, remains as urgent as ever.