WHILE the People’s National Movement (PNM) and United National Congress (UNC) are both claiming victory in Monday’s local government election, the bragging rights clearly belong to the UNC.
Not only has the Opposition strengthened its hold on the local government machinery by adding the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation to the list of UNC-controlled local government bodies, but it has done so at the expense of the ruling party.
Whatever the interpretation, the results are significant for the UNC because they have handed a lifeline to the party and more importantly to its leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
After consecutive electoral failures, a defeat on Monday night could have spelt the end for her leadership.
As it stands, she can lay claim to leading her party to an expansion of corporations under UNC control, to picking up nine additional seats, and to gaining an electoral toe-hold in areas won from the PNM.
Taken together, these combine to create a new basis on which the UNC can attempt to rally support as it gears up for the general election due in a few months’ time.
By contrast, the PNM’s disappointing results have cheated the ruling party of the momentum with which it had confidently expected to emerge on Monday night in the run-up for the final sprint into the general election.
Not only were its ambitions in Siparia and Chaguanas thwarted but it lost Sangre Grande.
For now at least, the wind has been taken out of the PNM’s sails.
Notwithstanding all of this, however, it is possible to make far too much of the outcome of Monday’s election.
Possibly even more significant than the corporations won or lost was the dramatic fall in voter turnout and the fact that both the PNM and the UNC have lost considerable support among voters between the local government elections of 2016 and 2019.
Instead of analysing the outcome of the election based on the roughly 22 per cent of the electorate that voted, it may be more useful to focus on the 75 per cent or so of the electorate who chose not to vote for either party.
Even acknowledging the historically low turnout in local government polls, the 2019 turnout is exceptional.
Logic would have suggested a higher turnout this year than the 34 per cent in 2016 given that the 2016 election had followed closely on the heels of the general election in 2015 while this one fell in the budding heat of a national campaign.
The fact that turnout not only fell but fell dramatically is politically very significant.
Even more significant is the fact that support for both the PNM and the UNC declined from 2016.
Early figures suggest that UNC support declined by roughly 29 per cent while the PNM fared even worse, with a decline of roughly 40 per cent.
Of note is the fact that these voters did not shift as a bloc to any of the other smaller parties or independents that contested on Monday; they simply chose to opt out of the election.
The most significant point of Monday’s election may therefore be the electorate’s perception of narrowing choices in the widening of a political vacuum.