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How the election unfolded

Trinidad Express / IN the end, this is what happened. The People’s National Movement (PNM) started with eight corporations under its belt. It ended up with seven and a half. The United National Congress (UNC) started with six, and ended up with six and a half. If you looked at the map of the country put up on the TV6 screen when the totals came in, there was red at the top of the rice bag, from the western tip jotting out over the start of the Gulf of Paria, all the way to the eastern tip in the north. There were two small red dots indicating where San Fernando and Point Fortin are, along the south and south-western parts of the coast line and the bottom of the gulf. The rest of the country, it seemed, was yellow. It means, looking at things this way, the status quo is reconfirmed. The PNM is the party of urban Trinidad, where the population is concentrated, where density is highest. The UNC’s base support is spread over a larger expanse of territory, in what is the rural heartland of the island. But there were several other parties in this race, each of them beckoning the population to “send them both a message”. None of them came away from Monday’s fiercely fought battle for the future of local government, having made any impact on the electorate. The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) felt it had a chance in the urban centres of Point Fortin and in Arima, where it fielded candidates enough to secure wins in those corporations, should those candidates have won in their respective districts. The Congress of the People (COP), having decided to go on its own, using what it must have concluded was the bruising experience at the hands of the bigger brother in the ring during the coalition that was the People’s Partnership government, thought it could make a statement, particularly in Tunapuna/Piarco and San Fernando. The Independent Liberal Party (ILP), the group formed by Jack Warner after he opted out of the Partnership following his removal from the Cabinet in 2013, sought to revive hopes born out of a stirring it made three years ago. Those hopes were dashed once again, just as they had in the 2015 general election, when Mr Warner lost badly, the seat he captured in the by-election he precipitated after walking out on the UNC, in pique over his removal from the Cabinet. It was “the dawn of a new day,” he had told us then. There were more than 200,000 persons clamouring to join the party at the time, he had reported, and there were grand illusions about that green machine moving in on territory in the red space that is the East-West Corridor. Once again, however, the sun has not come up on that day, but the party’s leadership put on its bravest face early Monday evening, graciously accepting the reality, but vowing to “keep our doors open” to provide “representation” and “services” to whosoever will come. Ditto, the MSJ and the COP, along with the National Solidarity Assembly (NSA), a party jimmied together, out of discontent among a cohort of the current representatives of former cane farmers and sugar workers, over feelings of neglect by their parent body, the UNC. Feeling buoyed by its ability to claw back a comfortable win in Chaguanas, beating back a massive effort by the PNM to wrestle it away, and the ILP hoping to do whatever damage it thought it could, to hope against hope, the UNC mood was one of satisfaction. This contrasted distinctly with the sombreness on the night of September 7, 2015 when, amid the reversal of fortunes which saw the administration change hands, the outgoing Prime Minister electing to address the nation from her constituency office, and leaving down-couraged supporters to cry in their beer, by themselves at party headquarters. Grabbing a tie in Sangre Grande, the UNC could have done worse, even if it felt victory there was more than a real possibility. This meant that the PNM came out with half of a corporation less than they went in with, and the UNC with half more than they started with. A single district tipped the balance for the UNC, for it to hold on in Siparia. Rightly claiming that it now has representation in more corporations that the other side, the PNM chairman, the prosecutor of the reforms now to come in local government, would also, for effect, trot out the five of those in which the party has no opposition. To hell with whether or not there was a lower than usual voter turnout, and whether there was any lesson in there to be considered. The Prime Minister stood on the fact that of those who came out to vote, a majority of them voted for his party. There are 83 PNM councillors to the UNC’s 54. So what would the reform look like now, after this election, the Prime Minister promises we will see. The real work is yet to begin, and all the players, those who won and those who also ran, have a duty to hold relevant feet to fire. This is the real politics, in which the MSJ, the NSA, the COP and the ILP must continue to play. If, as David Abdulah insists, the political culture must change.

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