IN WELCOMING the December 6 date for a fresh Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, PNM Tobago Council leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine on Wednesday declared Christmas had come early for Tobagonians.
But the fact that it has taken us so long to arrive at this point is hardly a gift.
There has been an urgent need to get the THA back up and running since the six-six result of the January 25 election. After all sorts of twists and turns, involving debate of bills and an election order, threats of litigation, and even an overnight sit-in at the THA chamber, it has taken the State eight months to arrive at this outcome.
That is a disservice to the people of Tobago, served up by all the parties concerned.
Now, with a virulent disease swirling, claiming more lives with each passing day, Tobagonians have been told they will be able to vote, two months down the road. December 6 means the THA election campaign will be a full two months. Not even the run-up to the 2020 general election was that long.
It is true legislation passed in Parliament paving the way for this election set out a specific timeline that is apparently being followed. Why that legislation set out this rigid timeline is a matter that remains unsatisfactorily explained.
Nonetheless, the process being followed does have the silver lining of imbuing a degree of certainty and transparency in our election processes which is otherwise missing. The matter of a THA election date remains within the back pocket of the powers that be, but at least there is a general timeline set out which is being followed.
The long lead-up gives all parties relatively more time to prepare and reduces the inherent advantage of the incumbent party to an extent.
In a situation in which far more ambitious electoral reforms – such as campaign-finance legislation; fixed terms for leaders – have clearly been placed on the backburner, this is a small victory.
But what is certain about December 6 is that it will come in a context dramatically different from what pertained in January (and even last August).
Its especially disappointing rate of covid19 vaccine take-up has left Tobago vulnerable to the ravages of the delta variant. That situation is set to be worsened if political parties do not manage their affairs carefully on the hustings and regulate their candidates’ and supporters’ behaviour.
Is Tobago prepared for a spike in cases and deaths, in addition to an election? What will happen if it is not?
The authorities are clearly optimistic about how things will be months down the road. But even in ordinary times, a day is a long time in politics. And this campaign will be two months long.