The sea of flags and brightly-coloured party paraphernalia as well as the charged speeches that filled seats at the Queen’s Park Savannah and Camden Road, Couva, marked the kicking into high gear of the local government election campaign by the PNM and UNC.
Both parties set out to show they were on the move, presenting arguments for why they should be favoured by voters. Now that the official launches have occurred, we can expect a heightening of campaigning, which unusually means a series of claims and counter-claims. Indeed, the race is on.
We, therefore, take this opportunity to remind the parties of their collective duty to uphold the high standards expected of persons in public life. If that is not enough, they should at least be reminded of the codes of ethical political conduct to which they have voluntarily subscribed. We hope they will not do these provisions lip-service and will adhere to their spirit as well as letter.
Interestingly, both the PNM and the UNC seemed intent on signaling that they will focus on issues and not bacchanal. The PNM unveiled plans to advance several critical pieces of legislation within the week, while the UNC continued to spell out its virtual manifesto.
While the local government elections are the immediate goal, it is clear that both parties have their eyes set on matters further down the road: the general election due next year, and the matter of who should sit in Whitehall.
In this regard, the local government election should be viewed as a litmus test of things to come. Though not exactly the mother of all elections, as some have sought to deem it, it is nonetheless imbued with a higher-than-average momentousness attributable to its proximity to key battles ahead.
As the incumbent, the PNM’s election gear appears well-oiled and Sunday’s launch was successful. The UNC has the disadvantage of being in Opposition, but that could also become an advantage if they stick to the issues affecting people most while spelling out a convincing plan of action.
In coming days pollsters will no doubt begin to assess the degree of bounce, if any, from the weekend’s activities. What is clear, however, is there is likely to be a high degree of interest in the campaign. The emergence of new faces, the elaboration of fresh policies, the demonstration of a sound record of stewardship—all could push engagement even further.
What’s not needed is a reversion of the same-ole same-ole tactic of negative campaigning which has so often turned-off voters and resulted in low electoral turnouts.
And while there is always a robust discussion around numbers at rallies and events, what matters is substance. Let’s hear more plans, let’s get a vision of how the country can move forward, let’s have the issues that affect us most addressed.