Rasan Victor, 63, was the first person to vote at a polling station in Pleasantville this morning. Photo: Dexter Philip

Are you voting today for party? Your candidate of choice? Or no one at all?

Approximately 1,079,969 electors are eligible to go to the polls to elect 139 councillors to serve in the 14 municipal corporations in Trinidad.

Voting in the 2019 local government election takes place at 2,107 polling stations.

Polls opened at 6 a.m. and will close at 6 p.m.

In total, there are 339 candidates, 25 more than there were in the 2016 local government election.

There are six political parties participating — the United National Congress (UNC) and People’s National Movement (PNM) contesting all 139 seats, while the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), Congress of the People (COP), Port of Spain People’s Movement (PPM), National Transformation Party and eight independents will contest selected seats.

There are two more seats in this local government poll than there were in the November 28, 2016 poll.

Yesterday, parties were out doing some last-minute canvassing. The two main parties, the PNM and UNC, have engaged in aggressive campaigning.

This is due in part to the fact that this local government election, coming as it does nine months before the 2020 general election is due, is being seen as a precursor to next year’s result. Whoever wins today will get a major fillip.

Referendum on leadership of Rowley, Persad-Bissessar

Political observers will no doubt view today’s results as a referendum on the performance of the Keith Rowley Government, as well as on the leadership of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, both of whom will be facing their third local government election as leaders of their respective parties.

For many, this election would indicate whether Persad-Bissessar can reverse the trend of losses which started with the Tobago House of Assembly election in January 2013, continuing with defeats at the Chaguanas by-election in July 2013, local government election in October 2013, the St Joseph by-election, and the general election of September 2015.

In the 2016 local government election, the UNC, under her leadership, held on to its position (from the 2013 local government election) winning six of the 14 corporations, against the PNM’s eight.

Any additional losses today might spark fresh questions about her leadership and the resonance of the “Vote Kamla” campaign.

Conversely, if the PNM suffers a notable loss, it may signal that the difficulties that people are facing due to the downturn in the economy and Government’s fiscal programmes are insurmountable and that the Prime Minister’s message that this period of difficulty is temporary and is the start of a new nation-building process is not resonating.

It would mean that the bread and butter issues have greater impact than issues of corruption and, as the Prime Minister puts it, “the building of a new society”.

Battleground corporations: Sangre Grande, Siparia

There are two regional corporations which have aroused particular interest.

In the Sangre Grande Corporation, where there are eight seats, the PNM controls four and the UNC four.

Among the PNM’s four is the marginal seat of Sangre Grande North West, which had been won by 40 votes in 2016.

Among the UNC’s four seats, Cumuto/Tamana was won by 276 votes and is therefore also considered marginal.

The PNM currently controls the Corporation by virtue of the fact that in 2016, it held the chairmanship and the chairman has an original vote and casting vote in the event of any tie.

The use of the casting vote has allowed the PNM to maintain its control of the Corporation and if the PNM ends up with four seats again, it would retain control.

The UNC therefore needs to wrestle one seat from the PNM, as well as maintain control of its four seats, to seize control of the Corporation.

The PNM is hoping to improve its showing in Sangre Grande by taking one of the UNC seats.

The other interesting contest will take place in Siparia.

The Siparia Regional Corporation has nine seats. The UNC holds five, while the PNM has four, but a boundary change in one of the UNC seats may have given the PNM an advantage, which the PNM needs since one of its seats had been won by 88 votes in 2016.

Both sides think they have a good chance of controlling this Corporation, and with the Opposition Leader being the MP for Siparia, the result might have symbolic as well as political meaning.

In the last local government election, the PNM won 83 electoral districts while the UNC won 54.

The UNC gained control of all 14 seats in the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Corporation and the majority of seats in the Princes Town, Siparia, Mayaro/Rio Claro, Chaguanas and Penal/Debe Corporations.

The PNM gained control of all nine seats in the San Fernando Corporation, all 12 seats in the Port of Spain Corporation, all seven in the Arima Corporation, all six in the Point Fortin Corporation, all ten seats in the Diego Martin Regional Corporation and held the majority of seats in the San Juan/Laventille and Tunapuna/Piarco Corporations.

Voter turnout traditionally low

In the last 12 local government elections since 1968, the voter turnout has exceeded 40 per cent on only two occasions — in 1996, when 43.9 per cent of the electorate voted, and in 2013, when 43.6 per cent of the electorate voted.

Apart from that, the turnout has tended to be somewhere in the region of 23.6 to 30 per cent, in 1971, 1977, 1980, topping off at 30 per cent in 1983, to the more recent averages of 38-39 per cent in the 1987, 1992, 1999 and 2010 local government elections. Whether you are taking part in today’s poll or not, all citizens are required to observe the following electoral laws which prohibit loudspeakers, banners, favours, badges, flags, sets of colours, which can be deemed to be political propaganda; prohibit bands of music; congregating near a polling station; influencing electors to vote for any candidate; selling intoxicating liquor; engaging in illegal voting (voting more than once or voting if unqualified to do so) or impersonation (voting as some other person, whether that person is dead or fictitious).

There are penalties and terms of imprisonment for these offences.

By midnight tonight, the Trinidad burgesses will know which party will govern them in the respective corporations for the next three years.