Tobago’s turning point

ALL OVER the planet, the people are having their say. That much has been powerfully demonstrated by the Brexit vote and its still-unravelling fallout.

Locally, the ongoing process of selection of a new head of the PNM in Tobago continues our nation’s tradition of peaceful determination of leadership.

Some 8,077 people were eligible to vote for a new PNM political leader on the island and about half of that figure turned out on Sunday.

This, after much campaigning activity which led some to describe the process as having the aura of a general election.

Still, as energetic as the campaign was during the purdah, no one candidate from a field of seven crossed the required threshold of 50 percent of the votes. However, Kelvin Charles, the former presiding officer of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), secured 1,289 votes or 32 percent. He was followed closely by Tracy Davidson-Celestine, the Deputy Chief Secretary, who secured 1,070 votes or 27 percent.

The two top finishers will now do battle in a run-off on Sunday.

That run-off will be historic in some respects, as it will be the first time such a major matter will be handled under that mechanism in local politics.

Importantly, Sunday represented the first time the Tobago arm of the PNM implemented a “one person, one vote” system for its leadership.

The process was not perfect as some hiccups were reported in terms of gaps in voter lists and changes in assigned polling stations.

There were also allegations of fraud raised by Denise Tsoi-a-Fatt- Angus who said her signature was placed on a purported letter of resignation which circulated on social media. She placed third in Sunday’s voting with 679 votes or 17 percent. A poll by the Caribbean Development Research Services Inc had put her as the front runner, though many questioned this poll’s forecast. In fact, generally, there was a surprising lack of interest from pollsters, especially for a race which hinged on the winning candidate getting 50 percent or more.

While the turnout was put at 4,004 out of 8,077, there can be no denying that this was still a relatively small number in an island with a total population of 60,874.

This may reflect disinterest or confidence in whoever is chosen due to the strong position of the PNM as a whole in the Assembly.

Aside from these matters, things were said to have gone smoothly by party officials.

Once a leader is chosen next week, it will be time to focus on the next THA elections due early next year. Whoever the PNM picks on Sunday, it will represent a major turning point; a new face will replace Chief Secretary Orville London.

If Davidson-Celestine wins, it will be the first time a woman occupies the seat.

Looking to the future, there are matters of electoral reform yet to be addressed. On a national level, there is still the question of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) having autonomous funding. This was a pet peeve of Dr Norbert Masson, the former EBC chairman. Masson’s successor, Mark Ramkerrysingh, may take up the matter.

The PNM’s adoption of a run-off procedure will also be seen as ironic, given the party’s strong stance against a similar provision for parliamentary elections when it was proposed by the People’s Partnership.

In terms of proportional representation at the local government level, the PNM has already drawn a line in the sand saying it will repeal it after the next election due later this year. Brexit has also raised questions about referendums and whether matters such as Tobago’s destiny within the unified Trinidad and Tobago should be subject to a plebiscite.

While votes were being counted in Tobago yesterday, an election for the representative body of the Police Service was being held. And in court, there was an important hearing of election-related matters. All these processes show that, though far from perfect, our democracy remains vibrant.




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