THE ENTIRE country – regardless of political persuasion – can breathe a sigh of relief, given the clear outcome of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.
The result ends a political impasse which began in January and lasted far too long, all the while leaving Tobagonians without adequate representation and without an executive body that had a clear moral mandate to steer the island through increasingly turbulent waters.
The victory of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) has been described as historic, given the dominance of the People’s National Movement (PNM) in the assembly over the past two decades.
But the result is notable also because it presents a rare moment in politics when a political party’s leadership is effectively split between two figureheads: Watson Duke and Farley Augustine. How governance roles will be apportioned in the new executive will be keenly watched.
Mr Duke’s background, as well, in trade unionism, suggests continued appetite for the involvement of unions in politics, in a situation in which such unions have not often been keenly embraced at the polls.
One way of looking at the result is as a sign of an appetite for change. Yet in some respects, the result confirms longstanding realities.
The outcome appears to reaffirm the dominance of the two-party system in Tobago, with the new “third party” – the Innovative Democratic Alliance – only mustering about 300 votes across the entire island.
It cannot be ignored that the fate of Tracy Davidson-Celestine, the outgoing secretary for health and the first female PNM Tobago Council political leader, will be seen by many as a sign that the glass ceiling, though occasionally broken, may yet reassert itself.
For the moment, the PNM must embrace its new role as opposition party in the island, given its thousands of supporters.
Meanwhile, it is for political pundits to analyse the reasons for the PNM’s defeat as well as whether there could be national repercussions, given Tobago’s two seats in Parliament, currently held by the PNM.
This time around, the Prime Minister, though himself Tobagonian, did not appear to participate as much in the campaigning (though he featured heavily in advertising). Perhaps the national ruling party already saw the writing on the wall in Tobago
The elections over, the focus can now turn to addressing more comprehensively the spiralling covid19 situation on both islands.
With its clear mandate, the PDP has to tackle Tobago’s health crisis.
After voting on Monday, Mr Duke signalled a more mature approach when he declared there would be celebration but no “revelry” that night in order to respect health protocols. This was in stark contrast to his position on his party’s Nomination Day activities (though his stance on opening beaches may cause some concern).
We hope, for the sake of both Tobago and Trinidad, that this shift augurs well for the country’s pandemic management.