The People’s National Movement (PNM) Tobago Council and the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) are in election mode after the laying of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly) (Tobago) Order 2021 in the House of Representatives on Friday.
The Prime Minister laid the order, which clears the path for the staging of a fresh THA election to break the six-six deadlock between both parties in the assembly, after the January 25 poll. It was the first time in the THA’s 40-year history that the result of an election ended in a tie.
The order, which will be debated in the Parliament on Wednesday, proposes 15 electoral districts to reduce the likelihood of a tie in future THA elections. At present, 12 electoral districts are represented in the THA.
But the electoral districts being proposed are largely reconfigurations of existing seats with a few exceptions. For example, Darrel Spring, a small village near the capital, Scarborough, has now been linked to Whim while Lowlands has been joined to Lambeau. The proposed Mt St George/Goodwood replaces the Bacolet/Mt St George electoral district.
PDP political leader Watson Duke, who said he read the report, questioned the EBC’s rationale in arriving at the three additional reconfigured districts.
“We are not surprised by the underhand tactics of the EBC in coming up with the three additional seats,” he told Sunday Newsday.
But he said the party is not discouraged but poised to win all 15 electoral districts whenever the date of the THA election is announced.
“We have done the mathematics. We have spoke to our candidates and prospective candidates and our membership and based on our polling throughout Tobago we are quite satisfied that we are well-poised to win this election 15-nil. And so we welcome the fight.”
Duke said the party will comment further on the issue after the debate on the order.
“But, for now, we are not happy but we are accepting what is placed there and we are willing to deal with it.”
PNM Tobago Council political leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine, who has said repeatedly that a return to the polls is the best solution to resolve the impasse in the assembly, also said the party is ready for the election.
She regarded the laying of the order in the Parliament as a step in the right direction.
“This move to finally have Tobagonians decide the island’s future is a giant step in the right direction,” Davidson-Celestine said on Saturday in a statement from the Tobago Council.
“From day one, this party advocated letting the voters decide with a return to the polls. It has been the only clear solution to the deadlock.”
She accused the PDP of wanting to “gamble Tobago’s fate by tossing a coin and threatening legal action,” to break the deadlock after the January THA election.
“The PDP walked away from the negotiating table, just as the UNC walked out of the Parliament on the bills.”
Davidson-Celestine was referring to the debate on the Tobago “autonomy” bills, which is still at the committee stage in the Parliament.
“The trend with the politicians on the other side is clear. But the PNM has stayed the course and we now move forward with a clear plan of action with the people of the island.
Davidson-Celestine declined comment on the EBC’s proposed districts.
“The naming of the boundaries isn’t a challenge at the moment. It’s the purpose, which is to break a tie and eventually have smaller districts.”
Saying that moving Tobago’s business forward is critical, Davidson-Celestine admitted the holdover THA executive, led by Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis, “is not ideal and was never a solution."
“It, however, is permitted by law and covered the continuation of the governance of the islands affairs while we tried to find a solution.”
Davidson-Celestine said as a Tobagonian, she knows the importance of the EBC report in taking the island to a different level.
“We are maturing politically and this experience has been a learning one as much as it has been a challenge.”
With smaller electoral districts, she said, elected representatives will be better able to serve the people at a personal level.
“This bodes well for greater connection with people in every village and street. After all, they are the reason why we do this.
Davidson-Celestine also recalled the proposed 15 seats were “a critical part of the public consultation in previous stages of the autonomy talks for Tobago and now we get to open the door to better representation.”
Asked if the PNM had begun the process of identifying possible candidates for the districts, she said, “Information will be provided subsequently.”
Sunday Newsday also reached out to Innovative Democratic Alliance political leader Dr Denise Tsoiafatt Angus to get her take on the EBC Order and reconfigured boundaries but up to news time she had not responded.
Commenting on the proposed districts, political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath believes the realignment of the boundaries will give the PNM an edge.
“The way the population is spread out in Tobago, the west has normally been traditionally more pro-PNM while the east has favoured the PDP or anybody else and once you have to realign the boundaries, such realignment will have to come from the more heavily populated areas.”
He added, “In creating those new electoral divisions in the heavily populated areas would simply mean – and this is in the absence of any scientific analysis of the actual voting data – it would give the PNM an edge because these are traditional PNM areas and there are additional seats in the PNM areas.”
Ragoonath said based on traditional voting patterns, “As it stands right now, I would think that any attempt to expand the number of electoral districts, based on the population demographics, will give the PNM a greater advantage.”
Proposed 15 electoral districts
• Belle Garden/Glamorgan
• Bethel/New Grange
• Bethesda/Les Coteaux
• Bon Accord/Crown Point
• Buccoo/Mt Pleasant
• Darrel Spring/Whim
• Mason Hall/Moriah
• Mt St George/Goodwood
• Parlatuvier/L'Anse Fourmi/Speyside
• Scarborough/Mt Grace
• Signal Hill/Patience Hill