THE UNC is struggling against the PNM in key marginal seats in the East-West corridor critical for government formation. This is one finding of an ongoing opinion tracking poll being done by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA). Voters were polled in face-to-face interviews this month to represent the demographics of the population. The poll was overseen by Dr Vishnu Bisram.
He said the PNM leads the UNC 23-18. In order for the UNC to form the government after elections, due in September 2020, it must retain its 18 seats and wrest three seats from the PNM. The poll concludes it is an uphill task for the UNC.
A poll done in June showed the UNC trailing the PNM in San Fernando West, Moruga, St Joseph, and Tunapuna. The UNC was also struggling, though leading, in Barataria – which it holds, and faced a stiff challenge in Chaguanas East. The current poll shows a similar trend with over half the nation turned off from both major parties. But Bisram said, given the trend in the poll’s findings, the PNM is likely to retain government because it is leading in all the marginal seats it won in 2015 and could make pick-ups.
According to the findings, the general feeling among supporters of the UNC is the party cannot win the marginals to form the government unless decisive action is taken to transform the party. Supporters want the party’s leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar to be decisive in separating itself from some of its principal players to make the party electable.
Little faith is placed in the current executive. Potential voters expressed concerns about the inexperienced team surrounding the Persad-Bissessar. They feel she needs an experienced competent team of proven ability to campaign in the two elections (local and general) to be held within a year. Potential voters say the sycophants (chamchas they are called in strongholds) who surround the leader are doing a disservice to the party. Their primary interest, they potential voters say, is to retain their Senate seats, safe parliamentary seats, and get nomination as councillors and re-appointment as aldermen.
Most of them do not attract respect or approval from party supporters and are rejected by swing voters in particular.
Traditional UNC supporters also complain that “the real UNC” is being overlooked or sidelined in favour of opportunistic newcomers. Many point to the re-emergence of faces that purportedly supported Kamla in 2015 but disappeared after she lost power.
Voters say in order for the UNC to have a chance at the next general elections, the party must be reformed, party institutions re-activated, shadow MPs (prospective candidate for marginals) appointed, reconciliation occur with those stalwarts who were alienated and marginalised, and an alliance formed (national front) with the other parties.
Voters note that the accommodation or alliance formula was a successfully tested strategy as happened as recent as 2010.
Supporters of the UNC in the marginals blame the 2015 defeat on the late appointment of candidates who were given a month “to work the seats” while PNM candidates had years to canvass for votes resulting in the defeat of the UNC. Party supporters say the UNC party is repeating now, the error the leader made in 2015 by not appointing candidates for the marginals so they may have enough time to canvass, consolidate support, and win over swing voters. Voters note that the PNM has already appointed shadow MPs for Barataria, Chaguanas East and Point-a-Pierre, giving them more than a year to strategise and canvass support to wrest the seats from the UNC. Bisram said the poll shows the PNM has a good chance, in all three seats, to win re-election and increase its parliamentary representation.
Voters are also querying whether Kamla has the energy to work the ground as she did in 2015, wresting the party leadership from Panday and unseating Manning from White Hall. Kamla showed tremendous energy in 2010 criss-crossing the country winning over floating voters. But they say such energy has not been displayed in recent years on the ground.
There is a general feeling, even among some traditional PNM supporters and swing voters, that the UNC can improve its electoral chance in 2020.