After a unique election campaign, the people of Trinidad and Tobago go to the polls today to decide on which party should manage the country’s affairs over the next five years. History will record Election 2020 as the Covid-19 Election, the year when a global pandemic forced political parties to make a definitive switch from mass rallies to online campaigning.
It has been a campaign like no other and notwithstanding the scientific polls there is the sense among many that there is no safe bet regarding the outcome of this election. One notable feature has been the impact of social media which has disrupted the traditional monolithic approach to campaigning. Individual members and groups of voters are as active as political parties online, creating their own messages and running their own campaigns in a manner that challenges long-held conventions and, possibly even the law. Today, for example, when all physical campaigning is required to stop, it may well rise to feverish levels online. The digital revolution has brought us to a world for which the rules are still being written.
Nonetheless, one would hope that political parties, candidates and members of the public will respect and honour the democratic voting process in line with the regulations attached to the Representation of the People’s Act. In some countries social media has been used to spread misinformation and manipulate voters during elections. One would hope that the T&T public will not descend to such mischief to influence the electoral outcome.
As always, the country is relying on the Elections and Boundaries Commission to be prepared for any situation that develops. Covid-19 has brought new public health concerns to the voting process and one would hope that the EBC has all its bases covered and that its staff is well-trained to handle issues that flare up.
There is also a responsibility on political parties, candidates and their polling agents to handle differences with maturity and not to inflame any situation. This is a risk in today’s election given the usual anxiety to win along with the large number of first-time candidates and political parties for whom Election 2020 is a maiden journey.
Every general election is pitched as the mother of all elections with apocalyptic ramifications if one party or another did not win. In fact, this election is no different. It has been hard-fought by supporters determined to carry their party and candidate across the finish line first. If experience is anything to go by, the population should be able to go to bed tonight knowing which party will form the next government or whether it has yielded no clear winner. In the case of the latter, we have been there before and know the road to resolution.
The quicker the dust settles on this election the faster T&T will be able to get down to the herculean challenges that await us in this pandemic environment. Until then, we urge every elector to mask up, sanitise, social distance and vote.