In three weeks, the population will know which group of politicians will have the responsibility to lead the country through what may well be one of the nation’s most acute economic challenges.
This, of course, assumes that T&T will not fall prey to the bizarre legal gymnastics that have had Guyana in a state of limbo since its general election of March 2.
As with every election campaign, one can expect a great deal of political gimmickry, mischief and mishaps, picong, and general bussin’ of marks. While Covid-19 is cramping the style of those who love big political rallies and all that comes with them, Trinbagonians appear to have made a relatively seamless transition to campaigns that combine the virtual with the mobile. Instead of mass rallies, voters are being wooed by campaign caravans with candidates of the better-financed parties operating out of vehicles decked out with photos and slogans.
Big moments, like campaign launches, are streamed live to audiences which engage in their own sub-worlds of commentary and discussions. Campaign 2020 has indeed established a new normal with Covid-19 pushing political parties into ground campaigns that carry candidates closer to the electorate.
Importantly, the new format works well for small parties without the financial resources for non-stop public meetings and mass rallies, and whose efforts are often overlooked and lost under the weight of attention given to the two largest parties. Social media is being effectively employed by candidates from small and new parties and Independents to communicate their presence on the ground and to connect their platforms directly to constituents’ needs. Their guerilla campaigns are taking them into communities and homes to present tangible demonstrations of why they’re running, and the solutions they propose. While loyalists of the main parties are inclined to dismiss small parties as nuisances and threats in marginal constituencies, these parties energise campaigns by introducing fresh voices and ideas and by disturbing the complacency of the two-horse race. However, there has been evident political fall-out from Covid-19. Some new parties such as the Patriotic Front have withdrawn completely, while others have scaled down their ambitions by reducing the number of seats they will contest.
The scheduling of the general election before September allows the campaign dust to settle before school resumes after the lengthy pandemic break, assuming there is no new Covid-19 outbreak. By then, the population’s mind will also be turning to Budget 2020-21 and the challenge of managing our way out of the economic disruption wrought by Covid-19. The combination of a steep loss of income and the build-up of debt to protect the most vulnerable keeps the economy afloat and calms the electorate in an election year that has created an enormous challenge. Given the ongoing job losses, business closures and the lack of new investment, it helps that the question of which political party will have the responsibility to lead the country out of recession will be settled before September.
For now, our hope is that the next three weeks of Campaign 2020 will present Trinidad and Tobago at its best, with healthy rivalries marked by a good humour which avoids the vulgar while focusing on the important issues ahead.