Four marginal constituencies – three in Trinidad and one in Tobago – could determine the outcome of the August 10 general election.
This is the view of political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath as he weighed in on the campaign, a month before the election.
Ragoonath said unlike the 2015 general election, where six to eight marginal constituencies held sway, “I am now seeing three marginal constituencies in Trinidad as well, as the Tobago seat (Tobago East), will now be critical in this election.”
He identified Moruga/Tableland and San Fernando West, both of which are currently held by the PNM, and San Juan/Barataria, held by the UNC, as the constituencies that could determine which party wins the election.
“I think those three seats could literally determine Government and Opposition because if the PNM is to lose the San Fernando West and Moruga/Tableland seats and the UNC is able to retain San Juan/Barataria, that would change the whole dynamic altogether in the case of Trinidad,” he told Sunday Newsday.
“So I still believe those three marginal seats are critical to this election.”
Ragoonath said, however, St Joseph and Tunapuna cannot be discounted “even though I think the PNM, at this point, may have the edge in those seats.”
He added: “If the PNM has to win this election, they have to make sure they could retain at least one out of the two that they currently hold and they have to fight to win the San Juan/Barataria seat. And then there is always that Tobago question.”
Tobago East is widely perceived as marginal because of the threat posed to the PNM by the Progressive Democratic Patriots. The party's leader Watson Duke, who is the Roxborough/Delaford representative in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), is competing against the PNM's Ayanna Webster-Roy, who is seeking a second term.
Ragoonath also commented on the changes to the slates of candidates in both the PNM and UNC camps. He said changes were expected.
“One would have expected the UNC to change a significant amount of their candidates because there have been calls for change. And there has been that issue that the UNC was not electable with that current slate, and hence the UNC wanted to put forward a new slate.”
He observed that the PNM had changed seven incumbents.
“If the PNM could change seven MPs, some of whom are ministers, then that tells you that both parties have tried to ensure that the list of candidates would be one that would be acceptable to the population.
“In that context, I don’t think it is something that is far-fetched or out of the ordinary for parties to change candidates.”
There have been rumblings within the UNC’s supporters as why outgoing MPs Ramona Ramdial (Couva North), Christine Newallo-Hosein (Cumuto/Manzanilla) and Fazal Karim (Chaguanas East) were not re-selected for their respective seats. Some of their constituents have even threatened to withhold their votes.
Addressing the Prime Minister’s recent statement that he would not forgive Tobagonians if they elected Duke to the Parliament, Ragoonath said this indicates Dr Rowley “has some concerns” about the party’s support in Tobago.
One Tobago Voice, comprising Tobago Forwards, Tobago Organisation of the People and Platform of Truth, has announced it will contest the two Tobago seats in the election, but is yet to reveal its candidates.
Just days ago, Duke wrote to the leaders of the coalition, Christlyn Moore, Ashworth Jack and Hochoy Charles, calling for a meeting to discuss the election. It is unclear whether the PDP and One Tobago Voice are likely to join forces against the PNM ahead of the election.
Duke has urged Tobagonians to support the PDP in both constituencies so the party could advance their causes in the Parliament.
The PDP leader is on record as saying the party is “prepared to have a coalition, we are prepared to work with any political organisation..."
But speaking on July 5, Rowley said he would never forgive Tobagonians if Duke were elected.
He noted Duke "is on a criminal charge and should not be offering himself for Parliament...If the people of Tobago elect to Parliament a person who is on a criminal charge, I will personally not give them a pass on that!"
Ragoonath said Rowley’s statement is telling.
“The Prime Minister saw it fit to come out and chastise Tobagonians, telling them that if they vote for the PDP he will ‘not give them a pass on that.’ That statement, in itself, suggests to me that the PNM has some concerns as to how much support the PDP has in Tobago.”
“So that Tobago race, therefore, if you put all of these things together suggest that it is wide open as opposed to being skewed in favour of the PNM.”
Ragoonath, who admitted he has not been on the ground on Tobago, said he read an article which suggested One Tobago Voice was trying to poach the PDP’s candidate for Tobago West, Tashia Grace Burris.
“If that story has truth, it means there is already some connection between the PDP and One Voice. and One Voice may very well decide to say they will lend their support to this young lady.”
Ragoonath although he “sees difficulty” in One Voice supporting Duke, “That does not mean to say they cannot decide they will contest the election as one party against the PNM in the hope that they could get the two Tobago seats.”
The political scientist noted even the People’s Empowerment Party, led by Phillip Alexander, has thrown its support behind Duke.