Victory at the polls on August 10 will be played out in eight marginal constituencies.
And it can be safely projected that both the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC) will retain their bases in the safe seats in general election.
This is according to political science and international relations lecturer at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) Dr Indira Rampersad, who spoke at a Zoom meeting on race, religion and ethnicity in the August 10 general election last Sunday evening.
The meeting was organised by Dr Kumar Mahabir, former University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) assistant professor, author and researcher.
Rampersad said however that several factors can threaten the traditional safe seats.
“These include third parties, coalitions, redrawing of the boundaries, house or voter padding, leadership and candidates,” she said.
She said T&T’s politics is divided almost right down the middle along ethnic lines as is seen in the safe seats.
According to Rampersad, marginal seats are known as swing or battleground states in the US.
She said as the number of constituencies in T&T progressively increased since the 1956 general election when there were 24 seats, so too have the marginals.
“The number of seats had risen to 34 in 1961 and 36 in 1966, at which it stabilised until 2007 when it was increased to 41 seats. Hence, the increase in the number of marginal constituencies to ten in the 2010 general election.
“In 2020, as I see it, there are possibly eight marginals—La Horquetta/Talparo, Tunapuna, St Joseph, San Juan/Barataria, San Fernando West, Moruga/Tableland and, possibly, Toco/Sangre Grande and Tobago East.”
Religion and elections
Touching on the issue of religion and the role it plays in local politics, Rampersad said both parties have courted the Muslim and Presbyterian votes in the past.
“Under Eric Williams, many Muslims supported the PNM (People’s National Movement), but in 1995 when T&T celebrated its 150th anniversary of Indian arrival, they tended to veer towards the UNC. They remained with the party in the 2000 general election, which the UNC won,” she said.
She said the Muslim vote is important in constituencies like Barataria San Juan/and now, Chaguanas East.
Asked by a participant at the Zoom meeting to say where was the Muslim vote in Chaguanas East, Rampersad said she did not know exactly where but mentioned there were reports of ISIS supporters in the area.
She said in the past, the Muslim vote played a part in Princes Town when Amoy Mohammed won the seat for the PNM in the 1995 general election.
But, while the UNC has Saddam Hosein, reportedly a practicing Muslim, in Barataria/San Juan, the PNM does not.
The PNM’s candidate for that seat is Jason Williams, a radio talk show host and soca singer.
Rampersad noted the banding together of 25 Muslim organisations to support Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar for the August 10 general election, as well as three prominent Muslim organisations distancing themselves from this.
She said shortly after, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley hastened to sign a memorandum of understanding between Muslim leaders—including the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jammat Association (ASJA) and Trinidad Muslim League (TML)— and the Princes Town Regional Corporation for the establishment of a Muslim cemetery on State lands.
She said the Presbyterian vote is important in San Fernando West, noting both Muslims and Presbyterians supported the Congress of the People in 2007, which it won.
She said interestingly, in 2020, neither party is fielding a Presbyterian candidate in San Fernando West.
She noted however that PNM candidate Faris Al-Rawi has said he is the 43rd descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, and his mother may have some Presbyterian connection.
The Baptist vote
Rampersad said the PNM attempted to court the evangelical vote in March 2015, just before the general election in September later that year.
Dr Rowley, then in opposition, invited key representatives of the T&T Council of Evangelical Churches to join him for a special prayer dinner.
Both the PNM and UNC have courted the Baptist vote, Rampersad said.
But it was the UNC, under Basdeo Panday, which afforded them the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Liberation Day holiday and even had a senator, Barbara Burke, in his government.
Rampersad also said it would be noteworthy to gauge the number of non-voters in this election as “we always have about 35 to 40 per cent people who don’t vote”.
She said the 2020 election will be keenly contested, adding it has attracted immense interest from numerous small parties and candidates across age, ethnic, religious and class divides.
“There are five candidates battling for Tobago East and seven for San Fernando West,” she said.