THE battle for Tobago in Monday’s general election turned out, as many expected, to be a fight for Tobago East between the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) Ayanna Webster-Roy and the Progressive Democratic Patriot's (PDP) Watson Duke.
In contrast to 2015 when Webster-Roy won by about 6,000 votes, Duke put up a stiff challenge trailing her by just 800 votes. The slim margin prompted a call for a recount by the PDP camp on Tuesday.
Tobago East was abuzz Tuesday morning with discussion and analysis of the close race between the candidates.
When Newsday visited the constituency, residents shared mixed views on Duke's defeat at the polls. One of the things most agreed on was, Duke's mouth probably cost him at the polls – particularly two days before election when he called two Tobago women "dutty, stinking girls."
Leading up to the election, Duke orchestrated an impressive campaign – an upgrade from being one man under a streetlight with a bullhorn in the 2015 election.
“I ain’t know what happened dey nah?” a group of Roxborough villagers said reacting to Duke’s defeat. The group, who pledged future support for their Delaford/Roxborough representative dubbed “Spartan,” believe the election was corrupted. In what way? None of them were able to say.
But there was something about that Tobago East seat and Duke’s campaign that grabbed the attention of many, including the Prime Minister, who, during the early stage of the election campaign, vowed not to give Tobago a pass if Duke won the seat. Duke was charged for rape in 2016.
His campaign began months before the election bell rang when he and Tashia Burris, PDP's Tobago West candidate, got to work.
Many Tobagonians looked with curiosity at Duke’s efforts to win the hearts of voters, playing his first card by fixing as much leaking roofs as he could throughout Tobago. He assembled a team to build an elderly man a wooden house and also assisted with other home renovation projects. This was done at no cost to the homeowner. Some mocked his plans accusing him of trying to outsmart Tobagonians while others cheered him on and joined the team. Duke claimed he financed the initiative with his personal funds and got donations from benefactors. The PNM has accused the PDP of being financed by the UNC – a claim both have denied.
But before that, there was the "great swim" from Scarborough to Toco to protest the collapse of the seabridge, and the walk from Roxborough to Scarborough as a call to Udecott to give first preference to Tobago East workmen in major construction projects there. These efforts weren’t enough for the PDP to get a single seat and, around 10.30 pm on Monday, Duke conceded defeat before his partying supporters at the PDP’s headquarters in Roxborough. A preliminary count from the Elections and Boundaries Commission showed Webster-Roy got 6,573 votes and Duke 5,729.
He urged his supporters not to be saddened but to be strengthen and refocus for the upcoming THA election in 2021.
Former TTUTA Tobago officer Orlando Kerr spoke with Newsday while buying fish in Pembroke. Kerr said Duke's penchant for speaking his mind may have cost him.
On a political platform on Saturday, Duke vowed to take a Tobago woman and her attorney to court over a Facebook post which he claimed defamed him. He described the women repeatedly as "dutty, stinking girls." Kerr said, “There are things you can say that people can use against you. He should leave them ladies. When a man saying those things about women, it turns people off. A lot of people who would have voted for him got turned off. It was a trap and he fell straight into it."
A Delaford resident said the reason many voted for Duke was because of the disconnect between Webster-Roy and residents. He agreed Duke's defeat came from comments made at his final meeting.
“Duke recent comments about the two females had a lot to do with his downfall because there’s a lot of persons who were still undecided about who they were going to vote for but probably got convinced to vote for the PNM after hearing his recent comments, and his behaviour may have made them feel that he's arrogant and unpredictable to represent Tobago in Parliament.”
He hopes the new government establishes and implements sustainable goals for Tobagonians in the next five years.
In Argyle, fishermen and residents didn’t seem too happy about the PNM victory. One fisherman, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was disappointed to hear Duke was beaten.
“He has his ways but he knows Tobago needed better. He knows how Tobago – especially Roxborough – feels to be looking rundown. Then man used to come out and talk to the youths and remind us that we could get better and we supposed to get better. He put up a good fight but as they say, you can't win all the time. He had good support but he make plenty mistakes.”
DISTRUST OF UNC?
Kerr added, "The change has to come in the THA. PNM has gotten comfortable in Tobago. I'm not aligned with any political party but we need something different in THA.”
He said Duke’s close margin to dethrone the PNM is a wake-up call for the party.
“The gap closing in and the PNM realise what's coming. Tobago will send a message in the THA elections. They didn’t want to vote against PNM in the general election because they don't want (UNC political leader) Kamla (Persad-Bissessar) to get her hands on the country.”
WE LOVE PNM BUT NEED MORE
Jeffery Williams of Goodwood, who said he is a strong PNM supporter, told Newsday he hopes this time around he can see more interest and work being done from Webster-Roy during her second term.
“They keep boasting about things they supposed to do. Who else would do it? We love PNM but we need more. We will get fed up soon.”
Williams was not the only PNM supporter who professed love for the party and joy in seeing PNM successful in another election but in the same breath complained of unresolved issues plaguing their community for years.
He said, in the next five years he wants proper representation and more interest.
“Don't do what you (Webster-Roy) have to do, I want you to go the extra and make us feel you do something because you have more interest and care. There are times we have natural disasters that affect farmers, we want you to come show your face when this happens.”
He said Duke will have a difficult time breaking what he called “traditional” voting.
“People would say they would vote for you and the day of election it's different. I know PNM would have won. Whilst growing up, if you in a home where your family vote for PNM then you just follow. People don't really check who do what. We just accustomed listening to the older heads. I don't know why I ain't vote for Watson. I see he had plenty support but he should have sent (PDP deputy leader) Farley (Augustine), he would have had a clean sweep.”
He said Duke will have to go to the “heads” and sway them if he really wants to influence more supporters.
DUKE NOT THE ANSWER
Delaford resident Steffon Melville told Newsday Duke was never an option for Tobago.
“Tobago is PNM country; however, we don’t mind change, new ideas, younger minds. But Watson is not the answer. He has no manners and he is not Parliament material.”
When asked what he hopes to see from the returning government, Melville complained that Tobago is in dire need of improved infrastructure.
“We need more roads; better roads. We need a few flyovers. We need Tobago to look like Trinidad’s sister. (We need) some type of resemblance, improved attraction for tourism, boost our agriculture (sector) so we don’t have to rely on imports. We need help getting ready for self governance so that we can develop the manpower needed to sustain on our own. And if we ask for $5 billion, give us the $5 billion to run the island.”
He described Duke’s plans for the island as good but “unrealistic given the current situation of the economy.”