Today marks the end of a bruising local government election campaign, one hallmarked by vigorous politicking at a pitch normally associated with a general election.
It’s been a campaign that’s heated up considerably over the last week, with bold accusations of “tiefing,” references to latrines and at least one on-target question coming from David Abdulah, political leader of the Movement for Social Justice who raised the issue of campaign financing in the face of furious spending to get the attention of voters.
That query echoes the concerns of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) in its report on the 2015 parliamentary election, which stated unequivocally that “it was patently obvious that political parties were completely unfettered by the prevailing laws regarding the election expenses of candidates.”
Despite the promotional expenditure, the large corpus of local government candidates remains a mystery to most of the constituents they hope to represent. None of the election campaigns has articulated strategy at the local government level and the electorate is being asked to cast their votes along party lines instead of on the merits of the people who are being placed on the ballot to represent their interests.
For those who see elections as one party versus another, that die has already been cast, but the voting history of this country, particularly for local government polls, has been one of apathy and disinterest, with poor voter turnout being the norm.
According to the records of the EBC, the votes cast for local government elections have tended to be half the number cast for parliamentary elections. In the last local government election in 2016, 34.15 per cent of the electorate turned up to vote, 362,260 people out of the 1,060, 863 on the electoral list.
In the 2015 parliamentary election, 66.8 per cent of the electoral list, or 734,271 eligible voters exercised their franchise.
The largest turnout on record for a local government election came in 2013 when 452,031 citizens voted. In 1996 a marginally larger percentage of voters turned out, 43.95 per cent compared to 2013’s total of 43.60 per cent. In both cases, the local government elections were recast as a referendum on the parliamentary elections.
The 1996 local government election followed a close election that brought the UNC to power and the 2013 election was a trial by ballot for the leadership of Keith Rowley.
Monday, citizens have an opportunity to cast their vote. They owe it to their families and their communities to make considered choices among the candidates offered in their electoral zone. That vote should be cast on the merits of their potential representative and their commitment to improving life at the most intimate level of political engagement.