PODIUMS and platforms have been packed up, microphones have been stilled and today the electorate, which has been under sustained wooing over the past few weeks, will decide which political party or independent candidate gets their vote, assuming they decide to vote at all.
Local government elections are not known for drawing high voter turn-out. The last election of 2016 registered a turnout of just 34 per cent. Voter interest was expected to increase from this election given the promises to reform local government reform and decentralise political power from the centre out to the periphery. However, this ambition remains unrealised.
This is not to suggest, however, that today’s election is not without importance. While on the national stage the political parties have been taking on each other’s leaders and generally extending their rivalry from Parliament onto the campaign trails, on the ground the communities have been a hotbed of canvassing and voter lobbying. Several new names, many of the youthful newcomers, have joined the fray bringing a vibrancy to the quest for local government representation. It is a wonderful thing to see young people so motivated to serve and willing to take the hard knocks that come with the rough and tumble of politics.
While local government is the ideal training ground for national politicians, far too few actually make a successfully crossing from local to national. This is largely due to the top-down nature of T&T political system where the political leader of the victorious party has great influence in the selection of candidates and also enjoys the absolute power to select the cabinet with or without reference to public opinion. The result is a disconnect between the priorities of local and national government which breeds alienation on the ground. This is the historic reality that local government reform is supposed to address by re-distributing power from the centre but which our politicians have so far been loathe to embrace once in office.
Today’s elections have particular significance for the political parties in the race as well as those which have chosen to stay out and watch how this one unfolds. With mere months to go before the next general election, the outcome of today’s poll will send vital signals to all political players about the mood and temperature of the electorate. Importantly, the analysis will be factored into the Prime Minister’s calculation of when to call the next general election. If he fancies his chances he might go earlier rather than later understanding however, as some prime ministers have discovered, that snap elections also have a way of releasing unintended and unforeseen consequences.
Such analyses must, however, wait until tomorrow. For now, our hope is that Trinidad and Tobago continues to stay true to its long-standing tradition of peaceful voting. We expect the Elections and Boundaries Commission to have a well-trained network of personnel and adequate resources in place to handle any situation that may arise. Further, we expect that the political parties, independent candidates and their representatives assigned to polling stations will exercise their responsibilities with knowledge and civility.