NACTA: Good chance for Jearlean but big challenge for Duke

JEARLEAN JOHN, UNC candidate for La Horquetta/Talparo could well overcome the big lead won by the People's National Movement (PNM) in 1995, but Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) candidate Watson Duke faces a huge challenge to unseat the PNM in Tobago East, pollster Dr Vishnu Bisram told Newsday on Sunday.

Newsday asked the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) head about whether the two seats, which have widely been dubbed marginal seats, really were, compared to say Barataria/San Juan and Moruga/Tableland, which were each won by margins of about 500 votes last election.

Bisram assessed the La Horquetta/Talparo seat, which changed hands last election, based on the margin of victory and on John’s candidacy.

Last time, the PNM’s Maxi Cuffie won 10,428 votes to some 7,606 by his UNC rival, a margin of 2,822 votes. “That is a huge gap,” Bisram exclaimed.

However, he then factored in John.

“Jearlean John is a very dynamic candidate. She is the most liked candidate in all marginals for either side.

“She is good, very good, very helpful to the people. Voters from both sides like her.” Bisram noted her early start to campaigning, a likely advantage over her PNM rival Foster Cummings. “She had the earliest start of all marginal candidates.”

Newsday asked how much the impact of a popular personality could help close the gap on a party that started out ahead in vote count from last election.

“In that constituency personality matters as opposed to just party. If the UNC were to win that seat, it would be because of the personality of Jearlean John.

“In virtually all the marginals the party will have to carry the candidate, but in La Horquetta/Talparo it is the personality that is carrying the party.”

While Tobago East has been held by different parties in the past, so alluding to marginality as defined by a seat which can swing from one election to another, Bisram said the 2015 election results painted a different picture.

That time the results were 7,915 for the PNM’s Ayanna Webster-Roy, taking 69 per cent of votes cast, to 1,760 for PDP’s Watson Duke as her closest rival. Noting that Webster-Roy had won four times as many votes as Duke, he said, “It will take a lot to make up that deficit. It would take a lot of dislike for the Government.

“Dr Rowley is a home-grown boy now at the pinnacle of achievement, from Mason Hall to Whitehall. Tobago showed him strong support last time and it would take a lot to defeat him this time around in Tobago.”

Bisram said if all the Opposition parties in Tobago had united behind Duke, a much stronger challenge could have been made to the PNM there. That said, he pondered a scenario where in the event of a 20/20 tie in the rest of TT, were Duke to win his seat, he would hold the balance of power in Parliament. This had happened in the 17-17-two result of the 1995 election, he remarked, where NAR leader ANR Robinson had put a UNC-led coalition into office.

Newsday asked about San Fernando West, where the PNM’s Faris Al-Rawi is being challenged by the UNC’s Sean Sobers among others. Last time Al-Rawi grabbed 59 per cent of votes cast, winning 10,112 votes to his rival’s 6,802 votes, a margin of 3,310. Bisram remarked, “It would take a lot of swinging to win a seat were the difference is over 3,000 votes.”

Likewise, Bisram said a significant swing would have to take place to unseat the PNM’s Esmond Forde in Tunapuna who had won by a margin of 3,615 votes last time, getting 11,228 votes to the UNC candidate’s 7,613 votes.

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