Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley.
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley.
Government of Trinidad and Tobago

General elections in two important CARICOM states are not due until 2025 but critics say that upcoming local government polls in both nations will certainly determine if the opposition is gaining ground in one of them and to what extent the government has made inroads into opposition strongholds in the other.

The Guyanese electorate goes to the polls on June 12 in what is widely being regarded as a political watershed moment as the Indo-dominated governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) appears to firmly believe that it will prove that it will finally be able to a garner significant number of votes in traditional in Afro-supported areas. It says that its nemesis, the APNU coalition, is at its weakest in decades following serious infighting and bickering as to who should lead the People’s National Congress (PNC), the largest party in the bloc.

In Trinidad, the British Privy Council recently forced the administration of Prime Minister Keith Rowley to call postponed local government or municipal elections by mid-August after the opposition activists had moved to the court system to force the hand of cabinet to call such elections. The government had said it had wanted to make long desired improvements to municipal laws before naming a date, but PM Rowley told parliament and the nation last week that the government will abide by the ruling and name a date within 90 days.

Both for Trinidad’s People’s National Movement (PNM) and the main opposition APNU coalition in Guyana, these upcoming polls are key indicators as to the mood of the electorate and as to how they will fare in bigger and more crucial general elections in two years time.

Former Trinidadian prime minister and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar says the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) is ready for the race and will make important vote gains this time around.

T&T Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
T&T Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Photo by Associated Press /Anthony Harris, file

Calling the move to postpone the polls by a year until legal reforms were in place “vulgar and outrageous,” Persad-Bissessar said the Privy Council ruling “is a victory for the people who the PNM tried to prevent from exercising their right to vote. At the heart of this case was the denial of the sacred right to vote. Whilst we lost this matter in the high court and court of appeal, we are happy that we have been vindicated by the highest court in the land in a stunning pronouncement against the legislative sleight of hand that threatened our democratic traditions and values. You can run from the people but you cannot hide. You have tried to deny people the right to vote the PNM out but you have failed. Local government is in shambles because the Rowley PNM has starved municipal corporations of funding so that they cannot properly serve the people on the ground,” she told reporters.

Already in Guyana, the PPP will dominate nearly 300 districts even before a single vote is cast as the APNU coalition will not be contesting in these areas. And the only poll conducted in the lead up weeks to the elections, the North American Teachers Association (NACTA) predicts that the PPP will win by a landslide as there “was a lack of enthusiasm for the opposition which has had miniscule overall support in the local bodies. In several bodies and in many seats, the PNC showed no meaningful (or no) presence; there has been hardly any sign of an election contest from the main opposition party. A poll conducted last January and February found zero presence of PNC activists in hundreds of constituencies suggesting that the party had thrown in the political towel and was not likely to contest in those seats especially in PPP rural strongholds,” the poll stated.

In Trinidad, Rowley last week wasted no time in warning his supporters to remain loyal. “You go and vote for them and you will get more Piarco Airport,” (scandals) he said, referring to the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from the construction of the facility nearly 20 years ago. “Elections have consequences. The PNM is committed to participating in every election, and is the only political institution that has fielded a candidate in every constituency for general elections, candidates in every electoral district for local government elections, and candidates for every Tobago House of Assembly election,” he said.